Books etc. by ARUDOU Debito (click on icon):
UPDATES ON TWITTER: arudoudebito
DEBITO.ORG PODCASTS on iTunes, subscribe free
Hi Blog. We’re going to do a tangent now away from our regular focus of life and human rights in Japan, and talk about life and, er, human rights in Japan (except in general, not as they specifically impact on NJ). Debito.org has talked at length about the whole Fukushima Fiasco in the past (even asked fruitlessly for naysayer capitulation when our initial assertions of public corruption and coverup proved to be pretty much spot-on), but only in concentrated bursts, as it is something better discussed elsewhere. Nevertheless, Debito.org Reader MD sent me a poignant post involving “cultural ironies” that I thought deserved a wider audience, so here it is. A brief comment from me follows:
Date: July 12, 2012
I dug up the following story during the weekend while having a enlighting Twitter discussion with a NJ-journalist friend living in Tokyo.
It appears that the NAIIC (National Diet of Japan Fukushiima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission) report on Fukushima deliberately added (or left-out depending on your Japanese / English reading ability) parts in the report. (NAIIC official site here.) Specifically only the English version of the report puts the blame on some made-up cultural characteristics like:
- This was a disaster “Made in Japan”.
- Its fundamental causes are to be found in the ingrained conventions of Japanese culture, i.e.,
- Our reflexive obedience; our reluctance to question authority; our devotion to ‘sticking with the program’; our groupism; and our insularity.
Unfortunately the international media was once again quick to approve the findings of the NAIIC report, because it caters to their readers exotic orientalised idea of a strange Japan which outsiders can never fully grasp. I ran that story as an open letter to the editor (in German) on www.schnellinterkulturell.de yesterday, after some of Germany’s biggest media outlets decided to buy into NAIIC’s cultural uniqueness story.
Meanwhile lots of US-American and British newspapers followed suit and criticise the report. Even Gerald Curtis shared his thoughts on justifying the Fukushima incident by attaching some cultural myth to it. (Financial Times story here) (free registration required)
The Japanese media in turn also picked up on how the international media picked up on the story (does that make sense?). I especially like the Asahi headline “Western media: Don’t blame Fukushima on ‘culture'” and the quote from Kiyoshi Kurokawa head of the commission: When asked by reporters why the Japanese and the English version of the reports differ, Kurokawa said: “If you are Japanese, you would understand by reading the original version.” I suppose the irony of blaming the Japanese culture for the Fukushima incident, and how he used that myth to evade a straight answer was totally lost on him. (full Asahi article here: http://ajw.asahi.com/article/0311disaster/analysis/AJ201207120045)
Make of it what you will, but I call (linguistic) foul play on part of the NAIIC.
Best regards, MD
PS: So far the story in German can only found on my blog, feel free to link and use Google Translate! http://schnellinterkulturell.de/2012/07/15395/ein-offener-brief-an-martin-koelling-japan-korrespondent-handelsblatts/
Western media: Don’t blame Fukushima on ‘culture’
The Asahi Shimbun, July 12, 2012
By DAISUKE NAKAI/ Correspondent
NEW YORK–British and U.S. media are not buying the Diet’s investigation commission’s report that Japanese culture was largely to blame for last year’s nuclear disaster.
They said the finding only helps to divert attention from the true lessons of the catastrophe.
The English-language version of the final report by the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission, released on July 5, said: “This was a disaster ‘Made in Japan.’ Its fundamental causes are to be found in the ingrained conventions of Japanese culture: our reflexive obedience; our reluctance to question authority; our devotion to ‘sticking with the program’; our groupism; and our insularity.”
U.S.-based Bloomberg ran an editorial on July 8 titled: “Japan’s Unsatisfying Nuclear Report.” The article appreciated the report’s detail and its assertion that the disaster was “profoundly man-made,” but pointed out that it “does not identify which men (and this being Japan, there probably weren’t many women) failed.”
It went on to say: “It is both a cop-out and a cliche to fall back on Japan’s ‘groupism’ and say that ‘had other Japanese been in the shoes of those who bear responsibility for this accident, the result may well have been the same.'”
Gerald Curtis, a professor of political science at Columbia University who is well-versed in Japanese affairs, also lambasted the cultural labeling in his contribution to Britain’s Financial Times.
“If culture explains behavior, then no one has to take responsibility,” he said. “People have autonomy to choose. At issue are the choices they make, not the cultural context in which they make them.”
Reporting from Tokyo on July 8, the Financial Times also raised concerns about labeling the disaster as “Made in Japan.”
“That, tragically, was the kind of conclusion that Japanese policymakers and engineers came to after the world’s last big nuclear accident, at Chernobyl in 1986,” the article said. “It was easier to blame Chernobyl on Soviet shortcomings of design and operation, rather than to truly question the safety of Japanese plants. Other nations should not repeat the mistake.”
Many of the statements at issue appear in the “Message from the Chairman” section of the English-language report written by investigation chairman Kiyoshi Kurokawa, but are found nowhere in the Japanese-language version.
Reporters asked the reasons for the differences between the Japanese and English versions during a news conference following the release of the report.
Kurokawa replied that, “If you are Japanese, you would understand by reading the original version.”
COMMENT FROM DEBITO: This linguistic prestidigitation is par for the course due to, as I have written before, the institutionalized culture of lying in Japan. Tatemae and honne — the two great ways to justify speaking differently out of two corners of one’s mouth — made clearer as never before, by having one official report on the world’s arguably worst (but definitely ongoing) nuclear disaster use the Japanese language as a code for domestic consumption, and its English translation to handle the gaijin. And true to character, as was noted by the chairman, it’s the gaijins’ fault for not understanding our Japanese…! And that’s before we get to the issues of the actual arguments being made within the report, as Gerald Curtis articulates so well below. As I’ve said before, this system is irredeemably broken. Arudou Debito
The Financial Times
Last updated: July 10, 2012 11:26 am
Stop blaming Fukushima on Japan’s culture
By Gerald Curtis
More than a year has passed since tragedy struck the Tohoku region of Japan. A huge earthquake and tsunami left 20,000 people dead and missing, hundreds of thousands homeless, and resulted in a nuclear accident at Fukushima that ranks with Chernobyl among the worst ever.
The tragedy cried out for a rapid policy response: the government failed to meet this challenge. The authorities’ incompetence is chronicled in the report of the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Commission released this month. Its sobering conclusion is that this was not a natural disaster but “a profoundly manmade disaster – that could and should have been foreseen and prevented. Its effects could have been mitigated by a more effective human response.”
The report documents the failings of Tepco, the power company that ran the Fukushima plant, the bureaucracy with regulatory responsibility for the nuclear industry and the government of prime minister Naoto Kan. It describes a culture of collusion inside Japan’s “nuclear village” that put the interests of power producers ahead of public safety and wilfully ignored the risks of a major nuclear accident in an earthquake prone country.
But one searches in vain through these pages for anyone to blame. It “singles out numerous individuals and organisations for harsh criticism, but the goal is not to lay blame”. Why not? Because, the commission concludes, “this was a disaster ‘Made in Japan.’ Its fundamental causes are to be found in the ingrained conventions of Japanese culture: our reflexive obedience; our reluctance to question authority; our devotion to ‘sticking with the programme’; our groupism; and our insularity. Had other Japanese been in the shoes of those who bear responsibility for this accident, the result may well have been the same.”
I beg to differ. Had Mr Kan not stormed into Tepco headquarters and tried to exercise some authority over the company’s executives, the situation might have been far worse. If Tepco had had a more competent president, its communications with the prime minister’s office would have been better. People matter: one of the heroes in the Fukushima story was Tepco’s Masao Yoshida, the plant manager who disobeyed orders not to use saltwater to cool the reactors. Incredibly, Tepco’s management initially clung to the hope the reactors might one day be brought back to operation, something that would be impossible once saltwater was injected into them.
To pin the blame on culture is the ultimate cop-out. If culture explains behaviour, then no one has to take responsibility. This is indeed what the report concludes when it says that the results would have been the same even with others in charge.
Culture does not explain Fukushima. People have autonomy to choose; at issue are the choices they make, not the cultural context in which they make them. If obedience to authority is such an ingrained trait in Japan, how then is it possible for a group of Japanese to write a report that not only questions but lambasts authority, anything but an example of reflexive obedience? The culture argument is specious.
Prime Minister Noda promised to have a new independent nuclear regulatory commission up and running by April of this year. The parliament’s lower house finally passed a bill to do that just last week. The government has decided to go ahead and restart two nuclear reactors at a plant that services Osaka and surrounding areas despite widespread public opposition. But it is unlikely that any of Japan’s other 51 nuclear power reactors will be brought online until after the commission is established and new safety standards announced. Culture does not explain this painfully slow response; politics do.
Those inside the Japanese nuclear village do share a particular culture but it is hardly uniquely Japanese. What jumps out from this report are the parallels between the manmade causes of and responses to Fukushima and the “culture” that led to the financial meltdown in the US after the Lehman Brothers collapse and that continues to resist meaningful reform and the pinning of responsibility for this manmade disaster on specific individuals.
The Fukushima Commission report “found an organisation-driven mind-set that prioritised benefits to the organisation at the expense of the public.” Well, if that is Japanese culture, then we are all Japanese.
The writer is a professor at Columbia university
19 comments on “Tangent: Parliamentary Independent Investigation Commission Report on Fukushima Disaster “Made in Japan”: MD notes ironies of different Japanese and English versions”
The usual smoke and mirrors. Glad I left and I won’t be back except for short visits.
It was apparent that when Kurokawa went up against the hacks at the FCCJ, many of them smelled a rat almost immediately.
The whole performance was oozing of some sort of special dog and pony show for the gaijin.
Kurokawa made a lot of how he lived in the U.S. and to me seemed to be playing to the audience (“I’m not a ‘typical Japanese, you know'”) type-of-thing, completely unaware of the ironies unfolding as he spoke.
Well, that’s just my take, but people can make up their own minds; here is the performance at the FCCJ: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IptKGrihEWs
It is a real pity in many ways because the report did nail up other reeking facts that had been ignored in other reports, and shredded the cover-up attempted by TEPCO and NISA.
What hit me is that (a) there is strong evidence that at least Unit 1’s cooling system was crocked BEFORE the tsunami hit, as can be found in TEPCO’s original data released back in April last year.
(b) This report is for pols, most of whom are plug-and-play for the bureaucracy; when Noda is out and the next PM and admin is in, the same people will still be administering. (Sorry, I am rather cynical- I wonder how new the new regulatory authority, being set up in Roppongi- is different from NISA).
(a) strikes me as an important point. We know now thanks to the excellent reporting by the NYT, Indie, Jake A, and many others (sorry just to name the gaijin) that the seismological surveys are a bunch of bullshit; many of us don’t have faith in the stress tests and retrofitting. Subsequent surveys may reveal an even worse picture.
However, interlinked with this is the factor of fraudulent maintenance. While TEPCO and NISA seem to have been hiding behind the excuse of the tsunami, it could well be that decades of mismanagement and cover-ups led to faked maintenance reports in Dai-ichi, meaning that systems that could have or should have stood up to the quake didn’t.
The evidence suggests that Unit 1’s cooling system may have been non-functional even if a Station Black Out (SBO) could have been avoided. So without the tsunami, you have one potential core melt anyway. This seems to me to be the Joker in the pack.
My bet is that the nuclear village will roll on; in five years from now we will find half or more of the reactors humming away because, (not in any particular order) surveys will identify threats to reactors, stress tests and retrofitting will enable the nuclear village to say the reactors are now ok, the nuclear village has no intention of giving up nuclear power generation because of the investment, number of jobs involved, the fact that industry wants to flog nuclear reactors around Asia, bureaucratic inertia, bureaucratic will vs. transient political administrations, protesters will become exhausted, etc. etc.
So on the assumption (just the assumption) that more reactors are going to come back on line:
– If you conduct seismological surveys and find and identify new real threats, then if you are going to restart or operate a facility, if this actually leads to reactors being retrofitted to withstand new seismological threats, well that’s something.
– Then you have the stress tests and the retrofitting. If you are going to operate facilities and you properly retrofit them, and you introduce all the new measures and redundancies suggested, then that sounds reasonable.
But the whole thing falls down if you are facing decades of fraudulent maintenance reports. The convenient truth for TEPCO/NISA is that we will probably never know the real state of the fixtures and fittings at Dai-ichi. The whole toxic mess will be buried, one way or another.
The history of TEPCO tells us that the company was inherently diseased- habitually, they lied and covered up on maintenance issues; how many more skeletons in the cupboard are there?
For example, with the evidence suggesting that the Unit 1 cooling system was crocked by the earthquake itself, can we really be sure that the other units would not have developed faults, catastrophic faults, even if the facility had avoided an SBO?
The worrying thing is that the stress tests are based on data provided about TEPCO and the other amakudari-approved oligopolies. If so aren’t you basing all your taisuku (countermeasures) on a foundation of quicksand?
As I sit here, about 100,000 people are on the March, right outside NHK on its doorsetep; how many seconds or minutes coverage will yet another massive anti-nuclear power demonstration receive tonight on the nation’s state broadcaster.
Well, this should serve as a wake up call to the entire nation that they are in a state of ‘shopping induced delusion’, but I think that we will see that it has no real effect what-so-ever. After all the blame avoidance word games are over, it will be back to (failing) business as usual.
Three weeks ago I was having coffee with a J-friend of mine who is a Mitsubishi reactor salesperson. She was telling me in all earnestly that the Fukushima meltdowns happened because the General Electric design (that was copied without license, and therefore presumably without input from GE) was a flawed design not suitable to Japan’s ‘unique’ requirements. I had one of my trademark loss of tolerance moments at that point and replied ‘You mean to say; it wasn’t idiot proof?’
I honestly believe that an education system that places no emphasis at all on critical analysis means that almost all Japanese involved and/or contributing to Fukushima in any way, are literally unable to comprehend the fact of having any responsibility for contributing to the circumstances of the disaster. Back to the myths; it happened because ‘Japan is unique’, and because of the fault of ‘others’ (GE), the ‘Japan as victim’ meme.
Nice to see someone -an academic no less- has stopped buying the “Unique Japanese culture postmodern myth as bargaining counter to get sweetheart trade deals with America” illusion. Thats good. Maybe we will see less domestic funding from academia going to Japanese cultural products overseas, ”just because its Zen” in favor of those highlighting Fukushima, but I digress.
On the other hand it is pathetic, but completely understandable that the western media -especially Germany, where many young anime geeks and students of Japanese are recently born- lap it up. Basically the MEDIA in one country feeds the MEDIA in others. It is now a cross board clique. The Media is indeed the message and massage. They massage each other.
Finally, I don’t discount the “culture” argument completely. The TEPCO Mandarins, the Ojisans are using an outdated map to describe their reality; one in which they must be obeyed. They bought into their own illusion and attempt to impose this on the modern reality, just like the main character in Mishima’s “Silk and Insight”, a character which inspired Ishihara, no less! The result in that novel was a major strike, so protest in Japan is nothing new, just not the face Japan chooses to present to the West.
What is nice to see is that PM Noda and others challenged that, as are others. Even a bit of Civil Disobedience for the common -not corporate- good going on here with Yoshida using saltwater on the reactors though some Tepco Jobsworth told him not to do so.
So we are seeing cracks emerge in this outdated view of Japan both in Japan and overseas. “Seeing” is the operative word; this is all about images and how we perceive “Japan” the brand in the media.
In the 80s it was Toyota/Geisha/Yen. In the 2000s it was Weird/Kawaii Japan, to MASK the reactionary reality. Now its Tsunami/Earthquake/Fukushima/Floods.
So my only criticism of the article written by Gerald Curtis is that he is not aware of the postmodern aspect; ie. some Japanese (and western Japan fans) DO buy into the myth of Confucian hierarchy and non-questioning and live their lives by it, but others do not, though it still exerts an influence.
I wonder how long Curtis has lived in Japan. Has he ever witnessed Japanese decision making in a Japanese corporation? How Wa and a desire not to rock the boat leads to inertia?
So to conclude, its great he doesnt buy this cliche anymore, Team Japan has cried wolf with it for too long, but he writes from a very western perspective.
I disagree with Debito’s interpretation. This is no linguistic prestidigitation. It’s a cultural note for the benefit of foreign readers who need things spelling out.
The central message of the foreword, in both the Japanese and English versions, is:
“… the most important [lesson] is one upon which each and every Japanese citizen should reflect very deeply. The consequences of negligence at Fukushima stand out as catastrophic, but the mindset that supported it can be found across Japan. In recognizing that fact, each of us should reflect on our responsibility as individuals in a democratic society.”
This is a call for societal change! The part that Kurokawa omitted from the Japanese version is his description of that mindset that needs fixing:
“… our reflexive obedience; our reluctance to question authority; our devotion to ‘sticking with the program’; our groupism; and our insularity.”
I suspect Kurokawa modestly chose to let his compatriots figure that part out for themselves.
If you still think there’s some kind of whitewash, try reading the rest of the report. (Or at least skim through the executive summary.) It reads more like a case for the prosecution than an impartial report. It’s peppered with words like “inexcusable”, “avoided responsibility” or “totally inappropriate”.
In the FT article Debito posted above, Professor Curtis wrote, “Well, if that is Japanese culture, then we are all Japanese.” I would add, “But some are more Japanese than others.”
I actually think the wording to be quite damning in the English version and find it very disturbing that those sames words are not presented in the Japanese. When I’ve told my Japanese family and friends, they agreed that those words exactly should have been told to the Japanese people instead of the usual long-winded beat-around-the-bush way that can be found in the Japanese version (I read the chairman’s statement in both languages and some of the report—sorry it is over 600 pages long). I think this is a distinct case where the double-speak is actually working against the Japanese, in order to spare them the obligation of having to look at themselves. The succinct wording in English clearly suggests to me that this is not just a problem created by power company execs and politicos, but by the people’s lack of governing their own government; of not raising voices in opposition at the public level and demanding true debate where opposing opinions on topics are heard out instead of being marginalized.
All of Mr. Curtis’ examples of people breaking with “tradition” (PM Kan, Masao Yoshida) are all after the fact (the accident itself). The report is indicating the years that someone could have said something, someone with knowledge contrary to the accepted fact, etc. did not speak out because of the said cultural features which are certainly not unique to Japan…but the chairman never says that it is. However, any of us who have lived and worked here long enough know just how ingrained it is in this culture specifically. They even have a damn phrase for it: “The nail that sticks out, gets hammered first.”
We all know of Olympus’ Michael Woodford. Did you know about this guy?
And even after his Supreme Court victory…
Wives will often tell husbands not to make trouble at the office for fear of how it will affect his career. It is for this very reason that I personally think the chairman’s words in English needs to be translated in to Japanese for the benefit of Japanese readers. Because to me, the “Made in Japan” moniker puts the responsibility on not just industry execs and politicians, but on the people themselves for not taking a more active part in the affairs of their own damn country. In this regard, I think the chairman’s words are highly appropriate.
— The Japan Times permanently archives its articles, but the Asahi doesn’t, so I’ll archive the Asahi article here:
Olympus whistleblower sidelined despite court ruling
The Asahi Shimbun July 11, 2012
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
An employee at Japanese medical equipment maker Olympus said on July 11 that his humiliating treatment has not changed despite a Supreme Court ruling that his demotion was illegal.
Masaharu Hamada said he is still isolated in the office and after last month’s court judgment is not given any work. His was the first whistleblower case to reach Japan’s highest court.
His lawyer Koichi Kozen said Hamada may have to file another lawsuit, complaining of human rights violations. Japan remains behind Western countries in penalizing companies that fail to abide by court rulings, and some fines are so small companies would rather pay up than abide, Kozen said.
“We would hope the company would respond quickly, but there has been no response,” Kozen said. “We want Mr. Hamada to get a new assignment, where he can be happy.”
Hamada, 51, an Olympus salesman with experience in the United States, first sued in 2008, alleging punishment for relaying a supplier’s complaint.
He is considered a whistleblower in Japan because he raised questions about colleagues’ professional behavior and was subjected to bizarre and humiliating punishment, such as taking rudimentary tests.
Tokyo-based Olympus said it took the June 28 ruling seriously and is in talks with Hamada on the best role for him in the company.
“A transfer takes some time,” said company spokesman Tsuyoshi Oshima, while declining to give details of the talks. “We are doing our best to respond as soon as possible.”
Hamada has repeatedly said he wants to be transferred to Olympus’ corporate compliance section where he says his court experience in labor rights will be a plus.
Last year, the Tokyo High Court reversed an earlier district court decision and ordered Olympus to pay Hamada 2.2 million yen ($28,000) in damages for his demotion. Olympus had appealed. The Supreme Court dismissed Olympus’ appeal, handing a “salaryman” a rare victory in a corporate culture that values unquestioning loyalty in return for lifetime employment.
A law to protect whistleblowers was enacted only in 2006 in Japan, and critics say it is inadequate because it does not penalize companies that punish whistleblowers. To pursue legal action, whistleblowers can’t quit as the law only applies to employees.
Only a handful of whistleblowers have come forward in the past few decades. When they do, they are treated as outcasts, sometimes being told to sit in closet-sized offices or to mow the lawn.
One high-profile whistleblower at Olympus fared better.
Michael Woodford, the former British chief executive, won a 10 million pound (1.2 billion yen, $15.4 million) settlement from Olympus in a British court. He had sued alleging unlawful dismissal and discrimination as he was not given the same treatment as a Japanese employee. He was fired in October after he blew the whistle on dubious accounting at Olympus.
Hamada said his section boss told him his situation was not his problem because the Supreme Court ruling meant Hamada should not be in his department. Hamada said his nameplate vanished from the office.
He said he will continue to fight his legal battle, including suing again, not just for his own rights but for other whistleblowers, who may come after him.
“If I give up now, it’s as though they won,” said Hamada. “We won in the Supreme Court. And that’s important.”
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
I think it to be a mistake to offer only 2 alternatives, either there is solely culture to blame and individual actions are irrelevant, or there is solely individual autonomy (and hence individuals) to blame and culture is irrelevant.
J do have a culture that shapes their action in groups.
Yet, I find that the description of the article:
“ingrained conventions of Japanese culture: our reflexive obedience; our reluctance to question authority; our devotion to ‘sticking with the programme’; our groupism; and our insularity” is incomplete.
What is missing that is powerful is the effects of corruption and collusion between large enterprises and their putative public sector regulators.
Such corruption is not uniquely Japanese, and it plays a large role especially for very large enterprises such as Tepco.
However, corruption is so widely tolerated and expected that few focus on the notion that corruption infects not just Tepco but all large enterprises, and that there is little or no independent regulation by government of large enterprises in Japan.
That set of factors alone would explain in the case of Tepco:
“reflexive obedience; our reluctance to question authority; our devotion to ‘sticking with the programme’; our groupism; and our insularity”
Thus, while I agree that an overuse of culture does minimize individual responsibility, I also believe that there is a profound culture of cronyism.
among others discusses cronyism as a fundamental element of its economy, often labeled as reciprocity.
Such cronyism is not unique to Japan either.
Of course, what this does (as rightly stated in the articles above) is absolve individuals of responsibility and blame (and therefore punishment).
The function of this phrase;
“This was a disaster ‘Made in Japan.’ Its fundamental causes are to be found in the ingrained conventions of Japanese culture: our reflexive obedience; our reluctance to question authority; our devotion to ‘sticking with the program’; our groupism; and our insularity.”
is to make clear (to any Japanese who have bothered to follow the story) that ‘we Japanese’ are all to blame, so if the public want the govt and courts to punish anyone, it should be all Japanese just as much as any govt or TEPCO individuals. It’s a cover up.
I found a huge discrepancy between Japanese and English versions of key note statement made by Kurokawa in the commission report. See below:
“This was a disaster ‘Made in Japan.’ Its fundamental causes are to be found in the ingrained conventions of Japanese culture: our reflexive obedience; our reluctance to question authority; our devotion to ‘sticking with the program’; our groupism; and our insularity.” (Kurokawa, “Message from the Chairman,” p.9)
Here, in Japanese version:
The above quotes are completely left out from the English version. This is crucial because the paragraph clearly identifies the agents that are worthy of blame for their ineptitude to provide security to the public. Moreover, the English version states that “[t]his report singles out numerous individuals and organizations for harsh criticism, but the goal is not—and should not be—to lay blame.” This is not the matter of cultural misunderstanding led by linguistic problem. It’s deliberate attempt to leave out the sentences that contain critical information for the matter of convenience. I can see this man preaching the rhetoric of cultural relativism through two types of commission report in a way to trivialize the fundamental problem of national system (i.e., politicizing and maintaining its ‘pseudo-homogenous’ culture).
Blaming the situation on culture is quite common in Japan and it is usually seen as the most acceptable excuse. My students always refer to themselves as “We Japanese.” Why?
— Because it’s convenient shorthand for becoming a cultural representative towards you as the NJ. However, that is a tangent to this topic.
Yes, the presentation and the discrepancies between the English and Japanese language versions of the reports are a real tour de force of everything that is wrong with Japan.
We can see the following issues come out;
1. The tatamae and honne ‘reality gap’.
2. The ‘unique Japan’ and ‘Japan as victim’ memes.
3. Collusion between government and big business to continue business marred by a lack of transparency.
4. Avoidance of individual responsibility in favor of ‘group blame’.
5. The rhetoric of change used to disguise business as normal.
It’s all there.
@ Superslow #2
Thank you for providing the link. Very entertaining pantomime.
For those who don’t have an hour and a half to waste, I would suggest skipping to 1:10:40
Richard Lloyd Perry from The Times (the only newspaper a gentleman should read) steps up to the mike to ask Kurokawa a question.
He starts by stating his surprise that he has never seen a J-gov document so fluently rendered in English (the point being that this time, very atypically, massive effort has been made to prepare this ‘document’ for foreign consumption, rather than it being an exercise in lip-service to internationalization; Japan inc. is pulling out all the stops to pull the wool over the worlds eyes). But he doesn’t stop there. After receiving acknowledgement from Kurokawa about the quality of the English (Kurokawa smirks: thank you), Perry then launches into him with the following;
Perry: It’s disconcerting that the English version and the Japanese version are different, they’re not exactly the same. And I know you’ve been asked about this, but can you explain in detail how that came about? How is it that your preface ended up different in English from Japanese? And is that going to apply later to the fuller English translation of the whole report? Are you in fact giving us an English version, rather than an English translation?
Kurokawa: Umm, right. Full report? Maybe what I’ll do is maybe more like direct translation of my preface in Japanese version.
Perry: How did it come to be different?
Kurokawa: Well, because I think that’s our discretion, and this (holds up English copy of the report) is for global audience, and if I translate more like Japanese version directly more or less, ah, ah, ah, the impact maybe should be different.
Perry: But, but I mean that if you write that ‘this was a disaster made in Japan’ in English, isn’t that something that Japanese are entitled to hear?
Kurokawa: So, ah, ok, I translate this into Japanese version and write it somewhere (laughs). We’ll do that too, why not (sits back laughing).
@ Jim above.
Kurokawa’s (bad) behavior above speaks volumes. He is a spin doctor in the guise of a westernized Japanese (which is still a cliche 20 years out of date but then again Japan has always played “catch up” with what they think the west wants to hear, as superslow said above Kurokawa made a lot of how he lived in the U.S. and to me seemed to be playing to the audience (“I’m not a ‘typical Japanese, you know’”) type-of-thing, completely unaware of the ironies unfolding as he spoke). Sorry, this may have worked in the 80s but we aint buying it now, espcially when its a nuclear disaster.
Lets look at what he says. It makes my blood boil, the way he acts-quite “fumajime”. This really gives a terrible impression that they do not really care about overseas opinion:
1. “umm, right”. “Maybe maybe”. well thats very professional language for a government official NOT. Could the GOJ stop sending over idiots and send over a more senior professional with a translator if necessary?
2. “Our discretion” Whfck? The arrogance of this guy. This is a nuclear disaster; you have lost all right to withhold information!
3.”ah, ah, ah maybe”. Hmm, the truth will out, how very “hazukashii”. I suppose its hard to field questions from those pesky foreigners.
4.”so, ah, ok” (subtext, just say what the westerners want to hear then ferggedaboutit.)”Write it somewhere”? Could you be a bit more specific about “where”?
5. “Sits back laughing”. Errr, Kurokawa yuo have fallen into the old “I can be more casual in English than in Japanese” trap that some Japanese do when studying in the US of A.
This is no laughing matter. Ok, I know you are really laughing out of embarrassment, but this is not going well for you.
Conclusion: he comes across as an insecure d*ck.
Solution:intensive courses in cross cultural awareness and English presentation skills, with an emphasis on fielding and answering questions and appropriate body language to a western audience.
Please de learn all the cliches you picked up on your roadtrip around America.
In the meantime, I repeat- could the GOJ stop sending over English speaking idiots and send over a more senior professional with a translator if necessary?
To be honest, I think he was allowed to speak because there is no-one with a superior grasp of English involved able to challenge his self-proclaimed expertise and familiarity with western culture. His attitude also smacks of condescension and arrogance; he reveals with the ‘discretion’ comment that the English language report (and therefore his appearance at the FCCJ) is just a charade; a kind of ‘tell the stupid gaijin what they want to hear’ hour and a half, like he has been sent in to patronize the children.
What made me laugh out loud though was his introduction at the beginning of the video, where he is introduced as (I am paraphrasing) having graduated with an MD at Todai, he spent 15 years in America before going back to Japan to (direct quote) ‘work his way up through the ranks’! What ranks would these be then? Since when did any Todai graduates have anything other than a silver spoon?
You do have to wonder though, who is the bi-lingual English native speaker who corrected the original doc?
To put myself into their shoes, I can understand the time constraints they have for the completion of their report, which is originally written in Japanese. It is 646-pages long, and takes quite a lot of time to read and comprehend, even for a native speaker of Japanese, just like me. I can read 250-300 pages of scholarly books written in English within a week or so, but not sure if I can read Japanese scholarly books in a similar manner.
In addition to the full report, they also provide a couple of versions— an abbreviated version (summary, 要約版), and digested version (ダイジェスト版), respectively (available at http://naiic.go.jp/blog/reports/main-report/executive-summary/). They did so, possibly out of their consideration to those Japanese who don’t have much time to read it through like a bookworm. Considering the amount of pages, the English version may correspond with an abbreviated version (104 pp.), which I think the main reason for the unavailability of English-translated full-version at the time of press conference. I wish the discrepancies are limited at the minimum level (i.e., linguistic differences), but who knows?
Anyway, Kurokawa could have done it better in the press conference. Instead of rambling on Japan’s cultural uniqueness excuses to the detriment of his defense from document discrepancies, he should have said it directly like, “Due to a large amount of report, which comes in more than 600 pages, we were having undue time constraints in completing the translation of its entire content in English to make it to the press release today. The English document you have in your hand is translated (if it is true) from an abbreviated version of the original report, which is also available to anyone here today. Please let me know if you need the abbreviated version as the reference. Right now we are working on English translation of full-report. We will notify you in future press conference, once it is completed.”
It’s pretty bad he spoiled the conference by squandering his opportunity to save Japan’s a$$ from chronic cultural insularity and group-ism mentality.
I think I am going to use this youtube clip as an example of how NOT to give a cross cultural presentation. I will let my (Japanese) students watch it, and then ask them to brainstorm what they think is wrong with it. The subject matter should be most stimulating.
Loverikkuma’s ideas above are spot on; this is how questions should be fielded; with honesty and a promise to get back with the requested info, not cliches of nationalism that the whole world is frankly bored of hearing from Japan.
If as foreigners “we can never understand” then why bother telling us? By the same logic, Japan cannot be allowed to have nuclear power as it cannot (be bothered to) communicate or coordinate properly with the International Atomic Energy Agency. Same as Iran or North Korea, in effect.
As another example of J corruption with implications for despoliation of the environment, I would refer to this report:
In the cases of both Tepco and tuna fishery regulation, it shows that the corrupt intermingling of government and business results in harm to the environment, and ordinary J, with benefits to powerful J.
I like the comment:
“By the same logic, Japan cannot be allowed to have nuclear power as it cannot (be bothered to) communicate or coordinate properly with the International Atomic Energy Agency. Same as Iran or North Korea, in effect.”
Indeed, North Korea offers the same idea — that the DPRK is so unique that no one who is not a member could possibly understand and appreciate its actions, and that as a result no non- North Korean should ever presume to judge the DPRK.
BBC NEWS 21 July 2012 Last updated at 07:15 ET
Japan to probe Tepco radiation cover-up claim
The Japanese government says it will investigate a report that workers at the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant were urged to disguise their exposure to radiation.
Build-Up, a subcontractor for plant operator Tepco, admitted one of its executives told workers to put lead shields on radiation detection devices.
Otherwise, they would have rapidly exceeded the legal limit for exposure.
The Fukishima plant was devastated by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
Cooling systems to reactors were knocked out, leading to meltdowns and the release of radioactivity.
Tens of thousands of residents were evacuated from an exclusion zone around the plant.
Between November and March this year, a group of Build-Up employees were working at Fukushima, trying to restore facilities.
In December, a Build-Up executive told them to cover their dosimeters with lead casings when working in areas with high radiation.
Otherwise, he warned, they would quickly reach the legal limit of 50 millisieverts’ exposure in a year, and they would have to stop working.
Build-Up president Takashi Wada told Japanese media nine of the workers complied.
Dosimeters – used to measure cumulative exposure – can be worn as badges or carried as devices about the size of a smartphone.
The workers had a recording of their meeting, the Asahi Shimbun newspaper said.
“Unless we hide it with lead, exposure will max out and we cannot work,” the executive was heard saying in the recording, as quoted by the paper.
The executive apparently said he used one of the lead shields himself.
A Tepco spokesman told Reuters on Saturday the company was aware from a separate contractor that Build-Up made the lead shields, but that they were never used at the Fukushima plant.
Earlier this month, a Japanese parliamentary panel concluded the disaster at Fukushima was “profoundly manmade” and its effects could have been “mitigated by a more effective human response”.
All of Japan’s nuclear plants were shut down in the wake of the disaster but one, in the town of Ohi, has now partially restarted.