Saturday, June 5, 2010
How about we learn this guy's name, and a bit about Japan's last 30 years?
(Picture of Japanese "mall sirens" - courtesy of http://www.globalcompassion.com/gallery01.htm, which leads to an interesting site http://www.photosensibility.com)
A short theory about Americans knowing world leaders. We're better with fewer syllables, anything beyond 5 and we glaze over. Hence, George Bush or Al Gore were the best and had feverish supporters to show for it; Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, Joe Biden, John McCain were all quite good, or at least understandable; Sarah Palin, Dalai Lama, okay though not equivalent; Hillary Clinton, Condoleeza Rice, Queen Elizabeth, tolerable, but no more. Nicholas Zarkozy for example with six syllables is simply too much, and Iceland's foreign minister Össur Skarphédinsson has no chance.
Which leads me to Japan's new Prime Minister (its 5th in 5 years), Naoto Kan. It's not that hard a name - four syllables, try memorizing it. And think a bit on Japan. It has the world's second largest economy, rising from the ashes of World War II on the backs of a generation that is now rapidly disappearing from the scene. That generation, young adults as WWII ended, saw the effects of atomic weapons first hand, faced a wrenching reappraisal of their Emperor (from divine down to human) similar to living with their homeland as a defeated aggressor rather than a divinely appointed ruler of the world under the modern concept of hakko ichiu (see wikipedia...). This was the generation that bent to the task, rebuilt, sacrificed, established worldwide trading systems, became workers staying loyal to one company for a career, and have now handed off leadership to a new generation, one equivalent to the US baby boomers. Would it be safe to say that the majority of Americans are more familiar with the story of Japan of the 30s through the 70s, than they are of Japan's story of the last three decades?
Speaking of US baby boomers, the differences in Japanese and US population demographics are several and significant. The Japanese population of 127 million is very homogeneous (98+% pure Japanese), unlike the kaleidoscope of the U.S. mix of 300 million (66% White non-Hispanic, 15% Hispanic/Latino, 13% Black, 4.4% Asian). Japan is rapidly aging, nearly 25% of the population is over 65 years old, causing tensions in the care of the elderly balanced by the burden of the working young to provide those social funds (contrast to the 12.8% of the US population over 65).
Which returns us to Naoto Kan, whose hobbies are go, shogi and mahjong... (which reinforces the point that I know nothing about a lot). He considers himself a man of the people, no special connections, no family elites. His political history has ups and downs, successes and a scandal here or there. What we might remember best, though, when we hear his name, is that beyond "pokemon," "hello kitty," and Ninja Warrior, a lot of us have very little awareness of this Island nation and its modern changing characteristics.