[Viewpoint] True feelings vs. public display

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[Viewpoint] True feelings vs. public display

The Japanese are known for hiding their inner emotions. When you step on someone’s foot on subway, the other excuses himself politely instead of getting angry. Of course, getting stepped on is not a pleasant experience, but the person with the crushed toes would never show how he feels in order to avoid an unnecessary confrontation.

Similarly, when a Japanese person has something to celebrate, he tries to refrain from expressing his joy in order not to reveal his true emotions.

Lately, Washington’s strategy to respond to the new Japanese government reflects this characteristic of the Japanese.

Power changed hands in Japan for the first time in 54 years, and the United States has expressed exaggerated concerns.

It all started with Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s paper, “My Political Philosophy” in which the Democratic Party leader claimed that the world is emerging from an era characterized by the United States as the sole superpower. Immediately, the United States grew uneasy and questioned if the new government was in fact anti-American.

Prime Minister Hatoyama went a step further and declared that diplomatic ties between Japan and the United States were not equal.

In contrast, he proposed establishing an East Asian community with China, of which the United States is watchful.

Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada made it clear that the United States is not part of the plan, saying that the community will include Korea, Japan, China, India and Australia.

The scheme is favored by Seoul, Tokyo and Beijing, but for different reasons, and it was to be more specifically discussed at the three-state summit in Beijing, China.

Some think Japan’s apparent desire for “leaving America and joining Asia” is causing friction between Japan and the United States.

However, we all know from history that the discrepancy between honne and tatemae, or true feeling and public display, is not a Japanese characteristic but a common diplomatic tactic of most powerful nations.

In fact, it’s probably true to say Washington welcomes the power change in Japan. When you are working with a company with incompetent management, you have to assume greater risk and burden. The solution is internal reform, but the Liberal Democratic Party failed to meet expectations.

And so the emergence of the Democratic Party of Japan is actually a new hope for the United States. Washington knows it needs a strong partner.

Following China, Russia is trying to be born again as a military power within Eurasia by embracing capitalism. It might be too much for the United States to deal with both China and Russia alone.

The most reliable partner, Japan, cannot pursue military buildup due to the original sin of starting an aggressive war. Under the nuclear umbrella of the United States, Japan used to make financial contributions, but since its economic bubble burst, it is struggling.

While the Hatoyama government emphasizes an Asian alliance, it has made it clear that its biggest ally is the United States.

In other words, Hatoyama is slowly revealing his honne. On Oct. 8, he suggested approving the agreement to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station in Futenma, Okinawa.

It was a comment that went against his campaign promise. He seems to be gearing up to tighten the U.S.-Japan alliance in time for President Barack Obama’s visit to Japan in November.

The Japanese have deeply rooted anti-American sentiment originating from the atomic bombing and surrender.

Taking public sentiment into account, Hatoyama is merely showing that he is courageous enough not to totally follow the direction of the United States.

It is usually hard to read Japan’s inner designs, but we also need to pay attention to how the United States truly feels. After all, the Japanese do not have monopoly of honne and tatemae.


*The writer is the Tokyo correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.


by Kim Dong-ho
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