Fukuoka Subway Poster Contest winner: Rude Statue of Liberty “overdoes freedom”, takes space from J passengers

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This is a photograph of a subway banner last month designed by an eighth grader in a Fukuoka Junior High School, taking first place in a Fukuoka City Subway contest for “Riding Manners”.  The caption:  “Don’t overdo the freedom.”

December 25, 2014, Reader TJL remarksHmmm…Fukuoka is now jumping on the “ugly American” bandwagon by portraying a rude Lady Liberty taking up too much space and playing her music too loud…the poor old lady in kimono can’t sit down and the salary man is disturbed by the noise. My graduate student from Chile found this on the subway.  So much for the kinder, gentler Japan welcoming visitors by 2020 for the Olympics.

COMMENT:  First, praise.  It’s a clever, well-rendered poster by a Junior High School student who at a surprisingly young age has a great grasp of space, color, perspective, and poster layout (I’ve done a lot of posters in my day, and I wasn’t anywhere near this quality until high school).  I especially love the jutting out bare foot, the extra-spiky headdress, the update to include noisy iPod headphones, and the open flame of Liberty’s torch on the seat.  The artist also displays careful attention to detail — he even remembered Liberty also carries a book (it’s on the seat by the torch).

Now, critique.  It’s sad to see such a young artist with an image of seeing freedom as an American symbol that can be so abused in a Japanese context.  Remember, just about anything humanoid could have been posed here taking up too much space, and comically too.  However, as rendered, it comes off more as a cheap shot at something foreign.

It’s made even cheaper by making Liberty barefoot.  I mentioned the artist’s attention to detail, but Liberty wears sandals.  The artist’s omission of that and purposefully sticking a bare foot in the face of the audience increases the rudeness, in a way that is hypocritical for since the slogan is “not overdoing it”.  Also, the extra-long spikes on the headdress, although artistically good for the poster’s rhythm, only exaggerates the inapproachability of Liberty, and thus is similarly overdone.

In sum, this poster is being featured for discussion on Debito.org because the subconscious attitude in a prizewinning (and thus officially-sanctioned) contest is to see freedom as a foreign, abusable concept.  Thus freedom is unsuitable to a Japanese context because it victimizes innocent Japanese.  Meaning the subliminal message being normalized is a strand of xenophobia, shudderingly inappropriate for Japan’s developing youth and future.  Dr. ARUDOU, Debito

32 comments on “Fukuoka Subway Poster Contest winner: Rude Statue of Liberty “overdoes freedom”, takes space from J passengers

  • Notwithstanding all the good points you already make D.A.D., I can also take this another way.

    It’s saying “we give you freedom, don’t abuse it”.

    Thus, if one ignores the obvious points you raise (notably the fact it IS the statue of liberty), its subliminal message is that we (the state/Govt.) give you freedom. There are signs of small protests and criticism of the state/Govt. recently…ergo, don’t push it, we (the state) give you your freedom.

    Sinister!

  • Jim di Griz says:

    I agree with your analysis Doctor.
    But are we sure this was designed by a school kid, and wasn’t really dreamt up by someone with a much more professional understanding of advertising? It just seems too clever to me.
    If it was drawn by a school child, then it shows just how successfully J-school kids are brainwashed by anti-NJ propaganda so effectively.
    In any event, the fact that it was chosen as the winner clearly shows that it’s (as always) open season on NJ, and that nobody remembered that Japan is supposed to be having an ‘omotenashi’ trend at the moment re: NJ.
    The message of the poster?
    Bad manners aren’t a Japanese problem, they’re an NJ problem.
    Even worse, since the writing is in Japanese, it’s clearly not aimed at NJ but at Japanese!
    What do we make of that? Well, I take that to mean that this poster is telling Japanese that ‘liberty’ (that is to say ‘personal freedoms’) are a nasty western thing that is having a bad effect on japanese ‘good manners’ and disrupting the ‘wa’ of the hardworking salaryMAN, and the ever-so-correct Japanese woman who doesn’t have a job, but is pottering around in kimono protecting traditional japanese culture and values.
    To me, this poster is an extremely clever visualization of Abe and the right-wingers message that ‘democracy is a western invention at odds with Japanese culture’, and on that basis, I honestly doubt that it was really drawn by a school kid. It’s right up there with the cleverest war-time propaganda (which, if you read Dowers analysis of Japanese wartime propaganda in War Without Mercy, you’ll see it fits exactly the same pattern).

  • I’m sure I would have felt very conflicted if I had been a judge in this contest. The illustration does an outstanding job of doing what a poster should do — convey an idea in an instantly understandable and memorable way. I’m impressed that a junior high school student came up with it. Nonetheless, a Japanese vs. non-Japanese (or Japanese culture vs. foreign culture) reading is definitely possible, even if not intended. I wonder if the judges even worried about the possibility.

  • As an aside, it’s convenient to depict people with headphones as disturbing, but when we’re surrounded with noise and advertisements and obnoxious announcements all the time, *of course* people wear headphones. This is not the artist’s fault. You can train elementary schoolers to look down on personal music, but my the time they reach junior high school they’ll know better. Older conservative folk may object, but they’re out of touch with modern life.

  • Jim di Griz says:

    Yet another indicator that this wasn’t drawn up by a child, but rather is a clever piece of professional propaganda;
    What does the inscription on the Lady Liberty say?
    ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses….’
    It’s a commemoration of America’s immigration culture. And we all know how Japan feels about immigration, ‘Give me your rich Jews (Aso!), and 2000 elite foreigners, but only for 3 years. Then please go home’.

    I’m sorry, I don’t believe the back story on this poster- its just way too clever on too many levels.

  • This is particularly ironic because in the US and Canada, manspreading is treated more seriously than in Japan. A quick search in English reveals newspaper articles, petitions, forums, professional ad campaigns, and blogs opposing the behavior, number of which are based on serious feminist analysis.

    Some might argue that this is because the problem is more serious in North America, but in my experience, this kind of rude and entitled behavior Is exceedingly common on Tokyo trains.

  • I also doubt that a Junior High School student came up with this on his / her own with no adult direction. It would be too creepy if the propaganda going on in the Japanese school system was as effective as to instill this level of hatred for ‘the foreign’ at that age.
    But this poster unconsciously reinforces the image of ‘weirdo’ Japanese people once you look at it from a NJ perspective:

    – why is it that the supposedly ‘kakkou ii’ and ‘ikemen’ salary man (the so called ‘modern Samurai’ of all people) act like a weakling and inhibited creep?
    Instead of simply having a little chat with the Statue of Liberty, you know, something along the lines of ‘hey nice to meet you, that’s a cool costume, do you mind turning down your iPod a little?’

    We all know the answer of course – Japanese culture is adverse to open communication, or really any mature way for an adult to go about their day, so a casual chat with a stranger is unthinkable.
    Instead of the normal reaction of ‘hey awesome, the SOL is on my subway!!’, in Japan it’s ‘oh my god, abunai, this person doesn’t act like I’m used to, I’m inconvenienced and sweating, hopefully nobody here thinks bad about me now’

    In a way, this poster only reinforces the image that Japanese people are socially awkward and ‘weird’ – it’s all a matter of perspective.

  • According to me, it is a mistake to consider this a xenophobic depiction as it would be a mistake to simply consider the Goddess of Democracy on Tiananmen square in 1989 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goddess_of_Democracy) a eulogizing of America. The Statue of Liberty has become an international symbol of an international value, not just an American one (and let’s remember it was a gift from France). The fact that the drawing is a meticulous copy of the American statue shows that it was made by a child.

    — I’m afraid I’m having trouble getting your point.

  • That’s quite ironic. J mainstream people tend to avoid to sit next to foreigner looking people on trains, so typically as a white or black person you find yourself a lot of space around you when sitting on the trains and now this… which provides an institutional pretext not to sit close to stinky, rude, noisy foreigners.

    Japan has still to catch up 50/60 years of civilization compared to other advanced democratic countries.
    2020 Olympics were assigned to Tokyo because of lack of alternatives, no Olympic spirit in sight here

  • Markus, indeed its a matter of perspective and I do like your comment that Japan is adverse to open communication with strangers-its is, if anything, anti communication and I would argue that the Japanese language actually acts to obfuscate clear meaning out of an overwhelming “politeness” (i.e. distant formality in which power structures-or images, Debord would say, not personal relations, take precedence).

    But a postmodern perspective would be that the Japanese postwar are so “rebranded” by Americana that they have appropriated the SOL as their own thing,

    Yet, they are at odds with it.

    So, they believe in the buzzword of freedom, but this is hindered by traditional hierarchical structures and roles, as we see in the illustration. And yes, creeping in with the Abe zeitgeist is indeed the idea that that too much personal freedom is an American import- though I believe the kid that drew this may not have realized this.

    In a way, its a positive sign- the young are more familiar with western icons than the Japanese ones Abe and his Oji sans would like to pedal them. I bet they all know Batman and Spiderman (and Ultraman) but are not particularly interested in Amaterasu or the mysteries of Shintoism.

    See the signs, not the apparent message they seem to say. Modern signs don’t always mean what they say, or mean anything.

  • I ride the Osaka subway everyday and I sometimes see men (and women) who take up more space on the seats than they should, not because of their body size but because they place their bags beside them on the seats or because they lean over to one side, as if sleeping.

    I haven’t seen American people doing this in Osaka.

  • Loverilakkuma says:

    @Toyotsu, #8

    Please tell us who is suggesting this poster is an example of xenophobia. I don’t see anyone doing that.

    I doubt that this student or junior high school has any intention to send the message that goes beyond the context for public mannerism. Sure, the practice of “掛詞”(a double meaning-making strategy by finding identification between two or more words. In this case, it is between Japanese term “自由” and Japanese-translated word “自由の女神”) is a common practice in Japanese language arts classroom. I have no problem, since that is an essential part of teaching students should learn for the understanding of first language. As far as such academic exercise does not go so far as to draw the implication for promoting racial bias or segregation, there’s no issue.

    In all, however, it is questionable this student’s school has any idea that the work disclosed to the public community carries a quite different implication from ordinary language practice within the academic community. The visual rhetoric of this poster carries more than the literal meaning of “自由” through the dialectics of individual free will and mannerism. It cannot be buried under the reductive logic of “cultural relativity.” I’m sure this is an example of site gag.

    http://www.nocaptionneeded.com/category/sight-gags/

    — Actually, I argued in this blog entry that “the subliminal message being normalized is a strand of xenophobia, shudderingly inappropriate for Japan’s developing youth and future”.

  • Loverilakkuma says:

    Debito –

    I don’t disagree with the general thesis: normalizing practice of “subliminal message” becomes a hotbed for xenophobic discourse. But, if I were you, I would probably replace the word “xenophobia” for “cultural transgression” or “‘private’ invasion of public,” regarding this poster.

    No doubt that this poster’s pranking (e.g., drawing a mock Lady Liberty for mis-conceptualization of “freedom” as a product of libertarian, consumptive culture, which is quite misleading) strikes the ambivalence of “private vs. public.” It could broadly appeal to the people in a way to make them self-conscious about personal space, and hence opening up the issue(let say, public attitude toward foreign passengers, for example).

    Regarding the issue, I agree that this poster draws some level of concern over prejudice toward individual freedom and rights brought from a foreign soil. It surely implicates for the struggle to deal with culture jamming. But it’s still not much clear to me how this poster could eventually reach to the higher level of hatred or animosity toward “foreignness”, given the limited information and contextual background available from the poster. Maybe I need more examples like this for discernment.

  • Just out of curiosity, what universally recognized symbol of liberty/freedom would be acceptable in such a poster? Would the reaction be the same if this were drawn by a student from the USA?

  • @Debito, #8
    Sorry, I will try to express my point better.

    Nobody identifies the Western cloth of the salary man on the left as a foreign object. I think that the statue of Liberty as a universal symbol of freedom has been integrated in Japanese culture in the same way.

  • “自由もほどほどに” > Basically “freedom has its limits”.
    Although over-interpreting the meaning of this sentence is a real risk, I see this sentence as representative of the fundamental political philosophy underlying the power structures in Confucian countries (communist China, Korea, Japan, etc.). Contrary to the western classical liberal “natural rights” philosophy (every human being is born with an inalienable right to liberty, property, security, and resistance to oppression), individual rights are granted by the Society/Community (or in communist countries by the Government). In Japan, you are free not because you are a human being, but because you are a member of the Community.
    Therefore it is not surprising that a LDP constitution revision draft removed any mention of “natural rights” and replaced it with the notion that rights are based on “social harmony”.
    That being said, in the present case, this is not a case of “freedom” but of common courtesy. Anyway, based on my experience in Japan and abroad, those kind of unconsiderate people are unlikely to read propaganda posters (it remembers me of some police posters : “drugs are dangerous”). I don’t really see the point.

  • @ Randal #14

    It doesn’t have to be a ‘universally recognized symbol of liberty/freedom’, since the poster is by a Japanese person, for Japanese people, and written in Japanese. Therefore the ‘symbol’ should be something Japanese, and in doing so would have no intentional/unintentional hidden racist meaning that wouldn’t (coincidentally) correspond with PM Abe’s spoken opinion of ‘western personal freedoms are incompatible with Japanese culture’.

  • I agree with Jim Di Griz (Number 3), this poster works on many levels.

    Take out the caption and the music and you have a poster that implies that Japan is a shadow of it’s former self. As has been pointed out the two Japanese characters are as important as the central figure of Liberty, degeneration and lack of respect.

    In many ways I find the foot being thrust into the face of the viewer the most revealing aspect of this. The resemblance to the Kitchner poster of world war one (Reproduced as Uncle Sam in the US) promotes it as a personal message to the viewer. As a westerner the foot is rude, but as a Japanese is not this aspect a directly aimed insult.

    The right and xenophobes must love this, a change in the title and it becomes a call to arms. But even better for them, no one ever reads posters it is the image that sticks. And that image will come to mind with every official comment about poor misunderstood Japan.

  • @Randal – If a student in the USA, coerced by parents and xenophobic ideas, drew this kind of poster, with the rude offender being a foreigner, and the foreigner thus was portrayed as causing trouble for the innocent Americans on either side, with the added insult of the foreigner being dressed up as some figure that is highly respected in the foreigner’s culture, with a double-entendre pun also taking a jab at what the figure symbolizes…

    (for example, “Hey Amaterasu, Divine Ancestor of the Royal Japanese Family, stop taking up so such space with your grand old Amaterasu Kimono gear, you’re being TOO Divine and TOO Royal, the Divinity and Royalty you represent, qualities which your culture respects, are NOT qualities which our culture respects, so you Japanese foreigners should stop coming to our country and causing trouble for us innocent Americans on either side of you on the train!)

    …then yes, hopefully some people who saw such a poster would honestly put up on a equal rights blog an critique that basically says, “This is a rude xenophobic propaganda poster, which reinforces hatred of foreigners, hatred of the symbol those foreigners respect, and hatred of the qualities which that symbol represents – and whether the child who drew it is merely regurgitating hatred learned from parents, or hatred learned from society in general, or whether the child merely colored in a sketch drawn by an adult – the fact remains that this rude xenophobic propaganda should NOT have been selected and promoted and publicly presented as the feeling of this nation. An American poster about manners should show rude Americans. A Japanese poster about manners should show rude Japanese people. This poster is rude, and I’ll go ahead and be the one to say it: Racist. In my opinion.”

    There’s not much else that can be said about it. This is a small jab, we saw it, we commented on it, and there we have it.

    So, all we can do is sit and wait for the next jab, and hope that the next jab is something mental like this, and not something physical (like Japan’s previous massacres of foreigners living in foreign countries, and Japan’s previous massacres of foreigners living within Japan like in 1926.)

    “But, but, other cultures have ALSO massacred foreigners, Japan isn’t the only culture that has been guilty in the past of moving from mere mental propaganda to outright physical massacres, right?”

    Yep, but Japan is (as it loves to say, again and again) “unique” in that modern Japanese culture does NOT admit the evilness of their ancestors’ actions, while most other cultures around the world admit the evilness of their ancestors’ actions.

    /thread

  • @Randal – If a student in the USA, coerced by parents and xenophobic ideas, drew this kind of poster, with the rude offender being a foreigner, and the foreigner thus was portrayed as causing trouble for the innocent Americans on either side, with the added insult of the foreigner being dressed up as some figure that is highly respected in the foreigner’s culture, with a double-entendre pun also taking a jab at what the figure symbolizes…

    (for example, “Hey Amaterasu, Divine Ancestor of the Royal Japanese Family, stop taking up so such space with your grand old Amaterasu Kimono gear, you’re being TOO Divine and TOO Royal, the Divinity and Royalty you represent, qualities which your culture respects, are NOT qualities which our culture respects, so you Japanese foreigners should stop coming to our country and causing trouble for us innocent Americans on either side of you on the train!)

    …then yes, hopefully some people who saw such a poster would honestly put up on an equal rights blog a critique that basically says, “This is a rude xenophobic propaganda poster, which reinforces hatred of foreigners, hatred of the symbol those foreigners respect, and hatred of the qualities which that symbol represents – and whether the child who drew it is merely regurgitating hatred learned from parents, or hatred learned from society in general, or whether the child merely colored in a sketch drawn by an adult – the fact remains that this rude xenophobic propaganda should NOT have been selected and promoted and publicly presented as the feeling of this nation. An American poster about manners should show rude Americans. A Japanese poster about manners should show rude Japanese people. This poster is rude, and I’ll go ahead and be the one to say it: Racist. In my opinion.”

    There’s not much else that can be said about it. This is a small jab, we saw it, we commented on it, and there we have it.

    So, all we can do is sit and wait for the next jab, and hope that the next jab is something mental like this, and not something physical (like Japan’s previous massacres of foreigners living in foreign countries, and Japan’s previous massacres of foreigners living within Japan like in 1923.)

    “But, but, other cultures have ALSO massacred foreigners, Japan isn’t the only culture that has been guilty in the past of moving from mere mental propaganda to outright physical massacres, right?”

    Yep, but Japan is (as it loves to say, again and again) “unique” in that modern Japanese culture does NOT admit the evilness of their ancestors’ actions, while most other cultures around the world admit the evilness of their ancestors’ actions.

    I have the honesty to criticize the evil actions of my ancestors (slavery in America, all past non-defensive wars waged by America, etc) and even the evil actions of my currently alive family (all recent and current non-defensive wars waged by America, plus the recent and current massacre of Arabs by Israel, etc) but the culture of Japan currently is lacking this level of self-honesty when it comes to criticizing the evil actions of one’s own family.

    Massacres of foreigners is the eventual result of hatred of foreigners and hatred of foreign qualities, and that hatred all begins with innocent-seeming propaganda depictions. Which is why I am glad that this site exists, to attempt to fight such “harmless rudeness” before it grows too large, in an effort to prevent the materialization of the evil actions that eventually happens when such propaganda isn’t critiqued: future wars and future massacres.

  • Baudrillard says:

    @ Randal et al, I ve been trying to find an indigenous Japanese symbol or deity of freedom, but there isn’t one, as far as I can see.Thus, as is par the course in Japan, they ironically have to import a loan word or symbol (in this case the statue of liberty) to express it. Its an irony not unlike the Showa emperor being a Disney fan in WW2, having a horse called Snow White (reminds me of Caligula’s horse, but I digress) and being buried with his Mickey watch still on.

    Rather than Angelina’s latest effort, I am waiting for Disney to come out with a movie about Japanese, err, “indiscretions” in WW2. That would really screw with the mental dualism/bi polar cultural upbringing of the population.

    A slight tangent but in my search I came up with this factoid on symbols, and the end of the Taisho democracy. “This was in part to do with the Peace Preservation Act, but also due to the general fragmentation of the left.” Hmmm, sounds like now, Fascism Lite.

    To be replaced by “Kokutai (Kyūjitai: 國體, Shinjitai: 国体, literally “national body/structure”) is a politically loaded word in the Japanese language, translatable as “system of government”, “sovereignty”, “national identity; national essence; national character”, “national polity; body politic; national entity; basis for the Emperor’s sovereignty; Japanese constitution”. ” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kokutai

    i.e. the establishment right as the “natural” party of government, of all things. Still, they dont have a home grown popular icon that embodies this- even the “7 Lucky Gods” who often feature in pop culture are not a good fit. Amaterasu maybe? She was after all, the Goddess of the Sun.

    Ah. She’s a goddess, not a god. Shoganai naa. Might suit the “Abe women” rebranding though….(oops, I don’t want to give them ideas).

    Also, “Great efforts were made to foment a “Japanese spirit” even in popular culture, as in the promotion of the “Song of Young Japan.”[9]

    Brave warriors united in justice
    In spirit a match for a million —
    Ready like the myriad cherry blossoms to scatter
    In the spring sky of the Showa Restoration.[9]”

    Song of Young Japan? This isnt so far away from Morning Musuko (I mean Musume, whatever turns oyaji on, sorry, I mean floats your boat)”s classic “Love Machine”, akind of Song of Young Japan for the times, as follows;

    “No matter how bad the recession is, love is inflation
    It’s indecent be treated this well
    My future is bright, I hope to find a job

    The world envies
    Japan’s future
    Let’s fall in love
    Dance! Dancin’ all of the night”

    Ok, so the last line is not relevant now the police have ensured Japan is the “odotte wa ikenai kuni” but the rest scared me with its scary propaganda and self delusionary J-pride.

    “Nippon no mirai wa (wow wow wow wow)
    Sekai ga urayamu (yeah yeah yeah yeah) “”

    Urayamu? Hardly, J-apologists. More like pity, or disappointment. Such a shame, really.

    — Let’s get the discussion back on track.

  • The statue of liberty is a foreign symbol and I agree that this poster can easily be read as “those foreigners are taking all the space on the train”.
    But the most important thing I noticed there is that they used only Japanese that foreigners (supposedly) can’t understand. So assuming that foreigners can’t get it and they’re the ones causing all the trouble in the train, what is the point? This poster says nothing to foreigners and since (again assuming) Japanese people are courteous in the train it is also useless for them.

    When Japanese people have a problem with foreign people, they can easily write some English (like “Japanese only”). I don’t think the current version is really meant to be offensive for foreigners but I agree that if they were to change the text (and for example put it in English) it would look much more like an attack on Western values.

    I also considered the comment from Baudrillard which suggests that the statue might be the most well-known symbol for liberty in Japan (despite being foreign) so it doesn’t have to carry an inherent racism by its use. It makes me think it was most likely innocent and some people are a bit overanalysing it. If you look hard enough you can find what you want in art. Police poster often carry images with much more obvious foreign characters (mostly dark skinned characters). In this case it’s obviously racist but here there’s no other appropriate symbol I know of that would represent liberty (and even have it in its own name).

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    @ Meneldal #22

    With regards to your comment, I think that you contradict yourself.
    If I may, you say that since the poster is in Japanese, it is clearly for Japanese people, on the assumption (by the authorities/designer) that NJ can’t read Japanese. You then say that if the poster is aimed at NJ trouble-makers, then you don’t see the point.

    I would say to you that there are no ‘NJ trouble-makers’, hence, the ‘point’ of this Japanese language poster is;
    1: Reassure the Japanese that they themselves have good manners (because, y’know, of ‘wa’ and everything), and
    2: to ‘other’ NJ in the eyes of the Japanese (but not(!) to ‘other’ the NJ directly, since they are not ‘supposed’ to be able to read it).

    The fact that we know that some NJ can read Japanese, and will understand the poster just goes to show how some Japanese persist in the stubborn idea that Japanese is so difficult it can only be understood by Japanese, because Japanese people are ‘special’.

    And yet, you ‘don’t see the point’ of this poster, and claim that it isn’t meant to be offensive to foreigners, however, you claim that it would be offensive if it was in English, since it would look like an attack on ‘our’ values.

    Let me tell you, I am offended by the poster.

    What are these ‘western values’ of which you speak? Do you mean inalienable human rights? Democracy? Are these not supposed to be ‘universal’ values, yes, even in Japan? Your own statement proves my point- that you think (just as PM Abe does), that these are ‘foreign’ ideas that should be separate from Japanese values. Well, I hate to break it to you, but Japan is supposed to be a ‘modern country’, and a member of the ‘international community’. I don’t see any scope left for serfdom.

    In fact, your logic is in concordance with the PM’s, (that these values are not compatible with Japanese culture), and on that basis, I would say that it is not ‘some posters’ who are ‘overanalysing it’, but rather that you are not analysing it enough.

    Of course the use of the Statue of Liberty carries with it an inherent racism, because the Japanese had been denied all of these concepts of freedom and human rights by their rulers until they lost the war, and got a new constitution that guaranteed them.

    As I said before, this poster is a masterpiece of propaganda:
    It not only attacks the idea that Japanese people should enjoy their inalienable human rights, but incites ordinary Japanese to hate on the people who fought against the ‘erai hito’ to ensure that they were not denied their inalienable human rights.

    It clearly shows exactly the same message towards human rights that the LDP’s draft of a revised constitution includes.

  • @JdG

    I think I have made some poor choice of words in my previous comments. I really believe some values should be (because they, de facto, aren’t) universal. I believe that the liberty to do whatever you want as long as it’s not causing harm to anyone is something that ought be to defended and enforced everywhere. But I’m not blind and I can see every day in Japan that many people see this as “Western values” which should never replaced their traditional “Japanese values”.
    I really deeply regret the current situation and by no way I condone it. I do not approve of most of Abe’s decisions (except maybe trying to come back to nuclear power as I believe it’s the only short time decent solution for the energy problem) and I hope he won’t be able to change the constitution and actually start a war. I guess it’s a good thing they don’t have nukes (yet) because I would trust them no more than North Korea for being reasonable with them.

    I don’t want to sound like an apologist but currently more or less half the world population doesn’t get the inalienable rights either. I believe that the issue is close to the effects of some kind of religion. Like the suicide bombers who really believe they are doing things for Islam, most Japanese people believe in the Japanese uniqueness myth. This kind of strong belief take a very long time to change.

    I agree that Japan showed great skill at using the Someone Else Problem™ and blame foreigners for everything. Crime posters showing foreigners or even explicitly mentioning foreigners as the cause of the problem. But it doesn’t mean that everything has to be seen in the most negative way possible.

    I think the Japanese values are not as important for people as they were and the government can’t keep everyone in check. While some values (such as a fair justice) are not really defended, I think more and more Japanese are enjoying more and more the liberty they’ve won. It might not bet very common but there are people who resign from lifetime employment now, new phone companies start offering contracts without the 2 years trap (and better prices). After a few drinks, it’s also easy to make most salaryman confess they hate the system and the rules but they don’t dare do anything about it.

    I think this desire of liberty is stronger in younger people and they might not see it so much as a foreign concept now (or maybe more like they would want it to become part of Japanese culture). The Old Guard is working hard to preserve the statu quo though so it’s hard to predict the future.

    So maybe the root of the problem here is as you said, (assuming evil Abe is behind this) it was made to expect people to make the connection between the abuse of freedom in the train and in other places. No small kid would think about this so it only makes sense is as most people seem to suspect someone told him what to draw.

    Assuming it just meant “foreigners are noisy and take space in the train” it would be of ridiculously low concern for me compared to the daily depictions of foreigners in TV for example (which seem to be there only to bring nice food from their country and tell us about all the awesomeness of Japan, with the extra patronizing dubbing that sounds more terrible than the dubbing of anime in the west).

    I guess we can agree to disagree on that last part, you seem to really believe this poster is really bad while I believe most Japanese won’t think over it that much.

  • It is unreasonable to assume the student thought through the implications of the poster. Either the student merely pieced together terms in a haphazard fashion (likely) or the student got the idea from someone else (possible but less likely). To which I say, hey, OK, fine for the student for producing the thing. After all, everyone is ignorant from time to time, and especially when we’re young. It behooves the judging committee and that student’s teachers to make educational efforts on the matter.

    As for other ideas, like there being limits on freedom, that itself raises one of the quintessential questions in government and ethics: just what is a “right”, anyway? We say we have the right to be free, but we can’t do whatever we like. One response is to say what the student said: “Freedom in moderation.” That is punting on the issue; it’s irresponsible. The better response is to figure out what you mean by “freedom”.

    Typically we talk about freedom to dictate our own actions, not those of people around us. Taking up multiple seats on a train is harming our neighbors, so it’s not an individual freedom. Listening to headphones doesn’t harm our neighbors, so it is. It’s funny to see the anti-headphone conservative drivel on posters and around town, considering that the buses where I live play advertisements. You want me to not wear headphones so that I can … listen to ads? That’s just nonsense. Furthermore, listening to headphones makes unbearable commutes marginally enjoyable. When used with proper regard for surrounding people, they’re a good thing, not a bad thing. Wishing technology didn’t advance over the past thirty years doesn’t get anyone anywhere. Here again, though, a student wouldn’t be familiar with the overall concerns.

  • “It is unreasonable to assume the student thought through the implications of the poster. ”

    Well…it’s unreasonable to expect a child to fully understand the implications of a picture they draw for school.

    However, when taking non-native images and ideas (in this case the Statue of Liberty) it is the responsibility of the adults in the room (parents, teachers, or judges) to view that cultural borrowing with a critical eye.

    Randomly, wantonly, carelessly stealing culture is not ok, especially for a post-colonial nation such as Japan. Japanese people, like white people in America or England, have a responsibility to be at least conscious of the things they borrow or steal from other cultures.

    At the very base line, it is common courtesy to the people you are borrowing from. At the worst, it is a preventative measure against racism and xenophobia.

    I can’t say that this post is in itself racist, but it is definitely a child being allowed by his teachers and parents to carelessly steal a non-Japanese image and manipulate it in a way that isn’t really respectful to the original idea.

    If the child were purposefully satirizing America or Liberty, I would be very happy to offer him/or/her my country’s images and sacred cows to skewer.

    However, this child took a very important idea and image from my culture, and used it for a subway etiquette poster. I don’t find it respectful to me or my nation.

    Then again – America has put great efforts into spreading freedom at the point of a rifle, so perhaps Liberty is the world’s property now. Perhaps we forfeited any right to be indignant about others using an image that we pretty much forced down their throats for decades.

    But, no – we can’t expect a child to fully think through these things, but we CAN expect the adults in the room to teach the children a respectful way to deal with other cultures.

  • Jim di Griz says:

    I still don’t think, given all the multi-layered meanings implicit in the poster, and the fact that those meanings 100% correspond with Abe’s own statements on those issues, that this poster was conceived and created by a child alone, without support, input, and guidance from someone who knew very well what message they were aiming to deliver.

    I don’t believe in coincidence.

  • As the Statue of Liberty is universally recognized as a symbol of… well, freedom, it would make sense to be used as a symbol of… well, freedom. Anyone looking for racism and xenophobia in this image needs an urgent reality check. I find the poster clever and well-made.

  • @ Hlaalu #28

    Yes, the poster is ‘clever and well-made’. That’s why it includes racist and discriminatory messages that work on several levels.
    It’s clever, it’s a propaganda masterpiece.

  • @ Douglas “You want me to not wear headphones so that I can … listen to ads?That’s just nonsense. “I love this,of course its nonsense, and its a contradiction, its postmodernist advertising mixed with corporatism, and its so Japan. First off, you have different groups knee jerking who havent thought as deeply as you, i.e the conservatives and their anti headphone campaign.

    But they would of course not challenge corporations who have paid for ads on a bus. They might counter that you can somehow ignore the ads, and you could of course just ignore their anti headphone campaign.

    Japan is…the country where people tend to ignore each other and not usually confront those causing a “nuisance”, after all. Has anyone ever called you out for your headphone use? A sign is these days, just a sign. It can be ignored and it will only be a game changer if people actively try to impose this will on others.

    “M McLuhan quotes from Ruth Benedict, The Chrysanthemum and the Sword, an anthropological study of Japanese culture published in 1946: “Occidentals cannot easily credit the ability of the Japanese to swing from one behavior to another without psychic cost. Such extreme possibilities are not included in our experience. Yet in Japanese life the contradictions, as they seem to us, are as deeply based in their view of life as our uniformities are in ours.”[78]”wiki.

  • @Hlaalu #28 – I sense a trolling attempt but hey I got some leftover troll seed, so: The thing we were talking about is that this symbol of freedom is being abused to give the idea of freedom, and in particular individual freedom, a bad name. And how convenient for the makers of this ad to connect the idea of freedom to something foreign (American) and thereby not only make it “un-japanese” but also ridicule a well-respected symbol and take away its dignity by picturing it being rude.
    Of course, there are no such symbols of freedom in Japan. The message is clear – if you act like the SoL in the picture, you are being “un-japanese”, and you will be seen as a foreign object. How is that not utterly xenophobic?
    One of the cultural traits of the Japanese that I think is sound to say really exists is that they are non-confrontative and indirect. But from that follows is that the ideas behind this poster must come from a much more xenophobic and supremacist mindset than what actually made it through the self-censoring.
    I personally think that if you had a chance to get a straight answer from most Japanese people on what they *really* think about foreign countries and their people, you would be chilled to the bone. But that’s only speculation of course. For now, the data we get about the Japanese (i.e. what sort of people they elect and re-elect to be their leaders), must suffice.

  • @ Markus, ” they are non-confrontative and indirect. “Hofstede would say this may be the majority, but its not everyone.I have detected a certain respect from Japanese people for loudmouthed idiots like Ishihara because “at least he speaks out”.
    It really is a case of style over substance.
    but to challenge the “indirect Japanese” stereotype, I can think of dozens of times when I have been gobsnacked by directness-maybe they feel they can tell me off, but dont have the guts to ask their boss for that holiday directly, etc.
    There was a Japanese obasan who made a point of telling all the teachers at school she “didnt like white people” (because of her daughters perceived slights suffered on a school exchange), others that they dont like Koreans, that Ishihara is good because “japanese gaman too much” etc etc yada yada. That is quite direct!

    So like Hofstede says, cultural traits may tend to be true, but they dont apply to everyone, and its alarming that xenophobes are venerated or given respect and constantly re elected just because they can “speak out” against an easy target with no rights; NJs.

    By the same token, Enoch Powell (ha, him again) should have been elected PM of Britain, or at least mayor of London (Boris and Ken Livingston also being quite outspoken at times but never as racist as their Japanese counterparts, which is why I still think the whole Powell/UK racism comparison is not useful, but I digress).

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