WSJ Japan Real Time blog: China bests Japan in Americans’ Eyes

Who is America’s most important partner in the Far East? More and more, polled Americans are saying “China”. So says a report commissioned by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), reports the WSJ blog, Japan Real Time.

This makes sense, right? A large plurality of Americans are unconnected to Asia, except for the fact that we buy so many manufactured products from there. China is simply bigger, and the Chinese don’t bring with them all of these little sociological and cultural puzzles that some Japanese hasten to inject into any bilateral dealings. China doesn’t have that same emotion present, one that feels like an inferiority complex, that you often find in close-up U.S.-Japan relations. The outstretched hand is out there, and it’s out there more and more.

China doesn’t worry about being “polluted” or “corrupted” by the presence of Westerners. You get the feeling that at least 10% of Japanese feel that way in Japan, though.

The most interesting point in the MOFA survey is that they interviewed both the hoi polloi like myself, and then the influence peddlers, which I put as part of a group I like to call the Pacific Elite. The Pac Elite are dropping Japan and focusing on China more than the everyday people here. I have to wonder about that one, since the Elite are the ones who get their phone calls returned and their e-mails answered by Japan.

You know how I am always saying that the decision makers in Japan never pay for their decisions–and it’s usually the generation coming up that has to bear the brunt for the screw ups of the people who had power? Is the same thing happening with U.S.-Japan relations? It’s another thing to think about.

I don’t think “more cultural exchange” is going to fix this one. I don’t think paying Congressional lobbyists more, to argue for specific Japanese interests on Capitol Hill, will fix it, either. People aren’t going to buy 19th or 20th century models for understanding and relating to Japan. What they will listen to is 21st century reality. And the reality is that fewer and fewer people in America are going to think much of setting up a small set of families nicely in their U.S.-Japan relations, and funneling billions in military money and nice business connections to them. That worked in the Cold War era, but it won’t work in the future.

I think what fixes it is more equal protection and fundamental fairness for everyday Americans when they are in Japan. Japan needs to be thought of, and seen in America, as a country that shares a lot of our values. Not as some closed-off, never-to-be-understood place, that can’t accept anyone who is even the slightest bit different than born-and-bred Japanese are. A country that is only open to connected corporate people.

We who have spent time in Japan know that that’s not true. There are plenty of worldly and international people in Japan, even many who haven’t left Japan except for a vacation or two.

The answer to this bilateral puzzle has more to do with new ways of thinking about showing the contemporary Japan to Americans, and pushing the vested interests, who are using old, gate-keeper, models, aside. There is no time like the present to make this happen. Japan needs to fire the current gatekeepers and focus more on building solid ties with Americans who have a connection to Japan.