November 22, 2005
Written by C.N.
The New York Times has an article that discusses the emerging popularity of several comic books published in Japan that contain rather stereotypic, derogatory, and hostile portrayals of Chinese and Koreans. One might initially dismiss these comic books as ultra-nationalists trying to appeal to a small niche, but as the article describes, they have actually become runaway best sellers throughout the country:
The two comic books, portraying Chinese and Koreans as base peoples and advocating confrontation with them, have become runaway best sellers in Japan in the last four months. In their graphic and unflattering drawings of Japan’s fellow Asians and in the unapologetic, often offensive contents of their speech bubbles, the books reveal some of the sentiments underlying Japan’s worsening relations with the rest of Asia.
They also point to Japan’s longstanding unease with the rest of Asia and its own sense of identity. Much of Japan’s history in the last century and a half has been guided by the goal of becoming more like the West and less like Asia. Today, China and South Korea’s rise to challenge Japan’s position as Asia’s economic, diplomatic and cultural leader is inspiring renewed xenophobia against them here. . . .
So far the two books, each running about 300 pages and costing around $10, have drawn little criticism from public officials, intellectuals or the mainstream news media. For example, Japan’s most conservative national daily, Sankei Shimbun, said the Korea book described issues between the countries “extremely rationally, without losing its balance.”
I find this development to be rather disturbing, but not entirely shocking. As many observers and citizens in Asia will tell you, unlike Germany, Japan’s government and its people have never fully come to grips with their acts of hostility and brutality against their Asian neighbors during World War II. Every year, a furor erupts over the visit of the Japanese Prime Minister to a war veteran shrine that among others, honors war criminals.
In addition, as the article also notes, for several decades after the end of WWII, Japan has enjoyed the status of Asian’s only economic superpower. But in recent years, the emergence of China, South Korea, and India represent increasingly significant threats to Japan’s economic dominance. Therefore, as sociologists will tell you, when there is economic or political competition, there is inevitably also going to be racial/ethnic hostility as well.
Unfortunately, this cultural rivalry between Japan and its Asian neighbors doesn’t look to be waning in intensity any time soon and in fact, looks to be intensifying. Hopefully these incidents will not affect the development and continuing proliferation of a pan-Asian American identity among us Asian Americans. In this case, it becomes even more important for Asian Americans and non-Asians alike to remember that being Asian is not the same as being Asian American.
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Suggested reference: Le, C.N. . "Ethnic Rivalries Reignited in Asia" Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. <http://www.asian-nation.org/headlines/2005/11/ethnic-rivalries-reignited-in-asia/> ().
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