CNN Reports on Millennials and Sexless Japan and I’m Part of the Story

On  Tuesday I was interviewed by CNN International “Japan’s Virgins” about a recent government survey that reported nearly half of millennials in Japan (well, actually 44%) are not sexually active at all. Of course this is no one’s business but the person being surveyed, but why this matters beyond the titillating headline is that we all know how obsessed the government of Japan is with fertility and procreation.

Japan’s future survival depends on producing more Japanese to support a rapidly aging and long-living population (think inverted pyramid). It’s not reasonable to expect Japan to reverse a long course of severely limiting immigration or opposing much intermarriage. That’s why whether or not young people are even open to sexual relations with each other is a policy and political concern with international implications. Think about it. If Japanese aren’t reproducing themselves in larger numbers, then Japan won’t have personnel for its military and industry. And Prime Minister Abe’s Japan has big plans for Japan’s military. He needs to replenish forces with more Japanese men and women.

If you haven’t had a chance, please buy a copy of my latest book, Japan’s Information War, published in July 2016. Copies are literally flying off the shelves. The difference is that those shelves are mine as I remove copies I bought to take with me when I give invited lectures. (Warning: If you a student enrolled in my classes at Kyoto University of Foreign Studies, you are a  captive audience and you will be required to read my book this semester.) Read my chapter, “No Sex: Brand Japan Stereotypes.” In it I spend a lot of time talking about sex in Japan as portrayed in the global media. Why? Because the world seems fascinated with whether or not the Japanese younger generation is getting together, coupling, dating, uniting–you get the picture. Well, let’s just ask Barry White to paint that picture for us:

So the world is fascinated with sexless Japan. Just check out this YouTube personality, Philip DeFranco, who showed my picture and quoted me from the CNN story:

You see, sex sells! Always has, always will. I could talk about the most serious policy issue and get no attention but if I comment about sex, then I’m famous for a half a minute.

Here’s the rub.

What is happening here in Japan is occurring in other parts of the world. Like Italy. The difference is that we associate Italian men and women with romance and love. It’s part of nation brand Italy: fast cars and even faster men. Or if we are seeking classic romance, then it’s Italy again. Think Roman Holiday. Better yet, watch Roman Holiday. Maybe it will put us all in the romantic mood. But I digress.

My suggestion to Japanese Millennials: Relax.half full

Don’t feel pressured to overcome global media stereotypes or exaggerations. The country of Japan is going to survive. It will be fine. It may have to open itself up more to foreigners in various categories from short-term workers to permanent residents, but I have full confidence that this country is going to right the ship. Or should I say love boat?!



Japan’s Hate Speech Problem: Part II

It is June 2012 and I’m sitting at the head table with Yoshimitsu Kaji, Director of Global Communications in the Prime Minister’s Office, as he is about to address a group of corporate communications professionals about managing Japan’s image and reputation.  His speech is engaging and at the end he asks if he might present a short film called “Lights of Japan” that was shown at the World Economic Forum’s “Japan Night” in February 2012.

The film brought tears to my eyes.  We were an audience of Japanophiles and “Lights of Japan,” which wasn’t then available on YouTube, presented an image of Japan, the victim on 3/11, as a nation that would rise above its victimhood in the post-3/11 era.  It would be a stronger and brighter nation of common good and purpose, a model for the rest of the world.

That may be a premature assessment.

In spring 2013, just over a year after “Lights of Japan” premiered in Davos, Switzerland, another video emerged that was dark and despicable.  It went viral in America and around the world.  It was the image of a middle-school age Japanese girl in a Korean ward of Osaka, Ikuno-ku. It has since been removed by YouTube due to hate speech regulations, which is why you get the following picture:

Japan, the world’s third largest economy, is like any other rich nation that is obsessed with its outward image in the world.  It is also like no other rich nation obsessed with such an image because this is, after all, Japan, and it doesn’t seem to be working too hard to change its image.

Now consider a regional neighbor, sometimes rival, and Japan’s largest trading partner.  China, the world’s second largest economy, is working day and night to promote an image of dogoodedness, despite its poor human rights records, lack of free speech and dissent, and deplorable labor conditions.  I lived in Beijing, China in the months before the 2008 Olympics and I was consulted with regularly about how China could better manage its media relations and image with foreign press.

When you visit Japan, you realize that, though modern and convenient, it is not a globalizing nation.  It is not diverse.  It prides itself on its unique culture—a truly remarkable culture at that—but nevertheless, its public diplomacy (nation branding) seems stagnant.

Japan’s public diplomacy focuses primarily on what the world already knows, not what we have questions about.  We know that Japan is polite, hospitable, safe, orderly, and that public crime is very low.  Japan has a lot of conbini (convenience stores) and vending machines on practically every street corner.  The trains are comfortable and run precisely.  There is a fascinating mix of the old and new for the eyes to marvel, such as a 400-year-old temple next to a new apartment building.  We marvel at Japan’s technological supremacy from Toto toilet to Shinkansen bullet train.  There are kawaii (cute) pop groups here like AKB48, manga and anime galore.  What’s not to like?  It seems, well, almost perfect here.

But of course, every picture of a place tells different stories.  The United States is friendly, outgoing, energetic, diverse, full of its own conveniences such as a Starbucks or McDonald’s on every corner.  (We’ll debate the Fast Food Nation another time.)  We are also a nation of polarizing divisions in race, politics, and gender.  We have high crime.  We are not safe walking the streets at night.  We are not a nation united.  One court decision in Florida can put thousands on the street with cries for justice.  But in our chaos, our public diplomacy is more revealing than that of Japan: The U.S. recognizes that it is a “warts and all” nation.  Take it or leave it is often our approach to public diplomacy.  We know that the global media will tell who we really are to the world anyway and so we often take the initiative to do it first.  It’s why Edward R. Murrow at the United States Information Agency would talk about America’s race relations in speeches he gave during the Kennedy years.  He knew that the Soviet Union was making hay of our civil rights record and treatment of African Americans and so he addressed the problem in a straightforward manner.

No nation can maintain a strong and positive image in the world if it avoids the obvious.  The obvious in Japan is a nation that is struggling with division between the majority Japanese with its minorities.  It is an imperfect nation, like all nations.  Hate speech is tolerated by the government, though many Japanese find it intolerable.  They are just hoping that it goes away and doesn’t get worse.  Maybe they are also hoping that the elections will quash the issue.  But a big win for Prime Minister Abe’s LDP party won’t diminish the issue.  It may in fact embolden the hate groups.

So far there have been hundreds protesting ethnic minorities in Japan, spewing their cries for Chinese and Koreans to die or leave the country immediately.  This is in a Greater Tokyo metro area of over 35 million.  It may seem like a minor problem that one can just brush away with a few strokes of a broom.  But in the age of the Internet, the YouTube effect dominates.  A few people marching in Tokyo’s Shin-Okubo (Korean area) amplifies to a cast of thousands when their shouts are rebroadcast for the net.  The Net Effect is that one middle age schoolgirl’s vitriol is perceived as a choir of children with like-minded feelings.

Japan, the global public is watching and listening.  The pictures that we see online may distort the truth but if you want to explain yourself, then you must address the “warts and all” issues like treatment of minorities.  When you explain them, you may find that the world’s people relate more to a less than perfect image of your nation.

Japan: Much Love and Thanks

I cannot believe that our semester together at Sophia University is coming to an end.  I very much look forward to your final papers.  As you know, they are due Wednesday, August 1, 2012.  I’ve asked you to create something new out of your imagination.  Your paper is a blueprint for your own self-designed organization to tell America’s cultural story to the world.  (In the politics and policy class, you must tell America’s foreign policy story to the world.)

I am making you the architect, the visionary, and CEO of this new agency.  What is your main theme? What organizational divisions will you have, e.g., exchanges, international broadcasting, arts, online?  How is it different from the way I describe the United States Information Agency in Propaganda, Inc.?  Would you include celebrities in your public diplomacy?  Why or why not?

I have thoroughly enjoyed my time with you these past three months.  The time flew by, as it always does when one is having a ball, as I have been.  I love your culture, your manners, and your commitment to learning.  I hope that some of you will consider study abroad in the United States.  I hope you all will never stop learning.  I am your sensei, but always your student, as there is so much left for me to learn about Japan, its politics, culture, people, and yes, as “Lights of Japan” put it, its resilience.  Our time together has inspired me to learn some Japanese.  I’ll never reach a level of fluency but I plan to learn enough Japanese to show my respect for your culture.  (I’ve already ordered flash cards and three books!)

I don’t wish to get too overly sentimental about what this time together has meant to my life.  Why don’t I have Chrissie Hynde from The Pretenders explain what I mean.  Thank you for helping to show me the meaning of the word.