Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Japan's Xenophobic Manga

A fascinating if troubling article by Norimitsu Onishi appeared in yesterday's International Herald Tribune, reprinted from its appearance in the New York Times two days earlier: "Ugly Images of Asian Rivals Become Best Sellers in Japan."

Onishi reports that recently, two xenophobic manga comic books have appeared in Japan, one denigrating Korea and the other denigrating China.

Of the anti-Korean one, Onishi states:
A young Japanese woman in the comic book "Hating the Korean Wave" exclaims, "It's not an exaggeration to say that Japan built the South Korea of today!" In another passage the book states that "there is nothing at all in Korean culture to be proud of."
Onishi notes that this popular culture bestseller has some of the nationalist cultural leaders behind it:

Kanji Nishio, a scholar of German literature, is honorary chairman of the Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform, the nationalist organization that has pushed to have references to the country's wartime atrocities eliminated from junior high school textbooks.

Mr. Nishio is blunt about how Japan should deal with its neighbors, saying nothing has changed since 1885, when one of modern Japan's most influential intellectuals, Yukichi Fukuzawa, said Japan should emulate the advanced nations of the West and leave Asia by dissociating itself from its backward neighbors, especially China and Korea.

"I wonder why they haven't grown up at all," Mr. Nishio said. "They don't change. I wonder why China and Korea haven't learned anything."

Mr. Nishio, who wrote a chapter in the comic book about South Korea, said Japan should try to cut itself off from China and South Korea, as Fukuzawa advocated. "Currently we cannot ignore South Korea and China," Mr. Nishio said. "Economically, it's difficult. But in our hearts, psychologically, we should remain composed and keep that attitude."

Kanji Nishio is one of those Japanese nationalists who recently angered Koreans with their publication of high school textbooks that glorified Japan's role in World War II.

With a touch of irony, Onishi suggests that this avowedly nationalist comic book that glorifies Japan by denigrating Korea and Koreans also implicitly denigrates Japan and the Japanese:
But the comic book, perhaps inadvertently, also betrays Japan's conflicted identity, its longstanding feelings of superiority toward Asia and of inferiority toward the West. The Japanese characters in the book are drawn with big eyes, blond hair and Caucasian features; the Koreans are drawn with black hair, narrow eyes and very Asian features.
I suppose that out of fairness, I ought to note that a similarly conflicted sense of identity exists here in South Korea, stemming from an inferiority complex betrayed by the widespread Korean use of plastic surgery to make Korean women look more Western.

Be that as it may, the troubling thing about these two manga comic books is that they achieved the status of bestseller, for this suggests that even though the recently published nationalist textbooks glorifying Japanese nationalism were adopted for use by only 1 or 2 percent of the schools, xenophobic attitudes toward Korea and China may be far more widespread.

None of this bodes well for the already conflicted future of Northeast Asia.


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