by Emily Tanji
Last month, the Japanese Diet, under the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), passed a set of bills that gave Japan the ability to practice collective self-defense. The most significant effect of these bills is that Japan can now mobilize its troops abroad.
Roughly speaking, there are two popular perceptions of the bills: for and against. China and South Korea have criticized the legislation. By passing the bills, Japan is making the same mistake it made seventy years ago, according to Xinhua News, the official news agency of China. The Korean newspaper Hankyoreh stated that these changes complicate Seoul’s ability for stronger security cooperation with Japan, because Japan has not issued frank apologies for past deeds, such as the colonization of Korea. The other side includes the Abe administration, its supporters, the U.S., and Southeast Asian countries concerned about China’s increasingly aggressive foreign policy. They view the bills as a welcome defense against rising aggressions from China and North Korea.
I have been avidly following news regarding these bills, scouring both Japanese domestic and international media. I have found that the position against the bills is well represented in international media, with mixed reception in domestic media. In other words, most international and many domestic news sources are anti-Abe.
I think there are strong biases at play here. The Abe administration isn’t as unpopular in Japan as foreign media has made it out to be. According to six major news sources in Japan, the Abe administration came to power in 2012 with an approval rating of between 52% and 65% (average of 59%), with a disapproval rating of 20.8-29% (average of 24.76%). Current popularity ratings are as follows: Sankei Shimbun, 10/9/2015, 44.8%, 41.2%; Jiji press, 10/16/2015, 39.8%, 37.7%; NHK, 10/13/2015, 43%, 40%; Yomiuri, 10/8/2015, 46%, 45%. Overall, trends show that the Abe administration’s popularity ratings have increased in the last few months, while disapproval ratings have slowly declined. A popularity rating roughly in the 40s is not bad, considering recent controversial moves with the security bills and the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
So, what exactly is going on with the disparaging media portrayal of Abe abroad? Foreign headlines read, “Abe’s ‘stain’” (The Economist); “Scuffles as Japan security bill approved by committee” (BBC); “Thousands protest Abe, security bills at Diet rally” (Japan Times). Only sources like the Wall Street Journal write, “Japan Parliament Approves Overseas Military Expansion.”
This indicates blatant pro-Japanese and anti-Japanese stances, depending on the source. For example, the New York Times (NYT) is pro-South Korea, which implies anti-Japan. You can perceive this most clearly from the NYT coverage on comfort women, girls and women who were forced into sexual slavery during the Japanese occupation in Korea. According to one NYT article, the Abe administration has a “denialist obsession” about comfort women. Another NYT article on the same subject reports, “[r]ather than apologize in personal terms, Mr. Abe was content to cite the apologies of his predecessors.” A pro-Japan perspective would not present this issue in this sort of language. If you have been taking at face value what has been written about Japan, perhaps it is time to critically examine what you read.
Overall, trends show that the Abe administration’s popularity ratings have increased in the last few months, while disapproval ratings have slowly declined.
I acknowledge that the whole picture is hard to come by. Much of international media coverage concerning Japan is sourced from Kyodo news agency, the leading news agency in Japan, whose prominent role is to distribute news to overseas media, as well as international organizations and institutions. Consequently, Kyodo largely controls what information is reported abroad. Having one dominant perspective is bound to skew reports. However, it is not just foreigners that have a hard time getting a clear picture of Japan. In the current state of affairs, even the Japanese has difficulty obtaining accurate information on the political, economic, and social realities of the country. Just look at the popularity ratings again to see the discrepancies between Japan’s domestic news sources. Bias is terribly influential whenever Japan is concerned, especially internationally. To illustrate, it is an open secret that the two pro-Japan newspapers in Japan are the Yomiuri and Sankei newspapers－China knows this too. Sankei reported on September 2, 2015 that the Chinese government refused to allow Sankei reporters to cover the 70th anniversary military parade that took place on September 3, 2015 in Beijing.
Awareness is important to mitigate propaganda and manipulation. Pay attention to news sources with perspectives opposing your favorite media. To understand the facts, look at a variety of sources and see where facts match up. Talk to different people, especially those with experiences from places you’ve not been. In Japan, there is always negative media about China, whether it be about another food safety scandal, or pollution in Beijing. So, I learn from my Chinese friends that there are trustworthy Chinese food brands, and that many young Chinese see Beijing as the place to be because of the job opportunities and entertainment that concentrate in the city. Additionally, don’t be afraid of reaching out to alternative media like ‘The Big Picture’, though transparency could be low. Laws such as Abe’s “Act on Protection of Specially Designated Secrets” have clamped down on information leakages on 2channel and similar websites. Finally, you can pursue the facts yourself, as some Japanese people did when the public received little reliable data on the radiation contamination caused by the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. Neighborhood gatherings of ordinary people, particularly concerned parents with young children, took it upon themselves to measure radiation levels in their local areas. There are many steps that one can take to inform oneself.
Let’s see the truth. TKO