Japan and America: Who Is Bashing Whom And Why?

THE OPEN MIND
Host: Richard D. Heffner
Guest: Seigi Hinata
Title: “Japan and America: Who is Bashing Whom…and Why?”
VTR: 5/28/93

I’m Richard Heffner, your host on THE OPEN MIND. And my guest today is uniquely qualified to help me – and my audience – work our way through the man current charges of Japan-bashing here and America-bashing in his country.

Seigi Hinata is Deputy Consul General of Japan here in new York. He has served his country well in a distinguished diplomatic career, and in the late 1980s was a Fellow at Harvard’s Center for International Affairs.

Now even before a young Japanese was shot to death when his frolicking frightened bewildered Louisiana homeowners who also happened to have a gun at hand – as so many, too many Americans do these days – many Japanese saw us as wild and wooly Westerners, peculiarly prone to violence.

We, in turn, keep remembering Pearl Harbor, as well as the long-time stereotypes so unhappily and ignorantly associated with the “Yellow Peril”, stereotypes that seem to be given so much currency once again. But why? And can we successfully deal with this current crop of Japan and America bashing?

These are among the more important questions that I want to put to my guest today. Thank you for joining me today, and, I, I…you said to me just before we went on the air that you thought that perhaps the bashing was getting less and less intense these days. But there it is, and my understanding from reading the American press, at least is that the episode in Louisiana brought a great concern to the fore in Japan. Is that, that true?

Hinata: I think so. I think Japanese people are shocked by this tragic accident. Unfortunately, you cannot bring him back…the victim…the young exchange student. And, as, as a government official working here in New York…officially, of course, we cannot comment on the results of the American judicial process, but I can tell you that Japanese people right now are struggling to understand that particular verdict. And particularly the, the violence that triggered that tragic accident.

Heffner: Well, is…does this fit into a picture that the Japanese have of America?

Hinata: I think the image in Japan about the American…particularly urban life…some…is that that it is not that secure, as in Japan. There are lots of guns around, and so, it’s a marked contrast to what we experience daily in Japan. You know, every people that I meet now in…I’m talking about Americans, after they visit Japan, they would express to me how they felt safe strolling around in the citify of Tokyo or Osaka or wherever, particularly at night. And so they were also very impressed by the, the Japanese security inside…and the Japanese civility, I think.

Heffner: Do you feel…well, let me put the question this way…I have been aware that our press, here in the United States has been emphasizing a break-down to some extent, not of security, in, in Japan, but of the economic security. There is less and less of a feeling that the traditional Japanese caring for workers all their lives is being diminished. If that is so, would you expect to find that Japan will become infected by, more like, American patterns?

Hinata: Well, I won’t say “infected by”, but it’s, it’s actually true that Japan is right now going through this severe recession. And the reason why there seems to be less Japan-bashing in the States is maybe because of the poor performance of the…Japan’s economy. American people do not see that much Japanese investments. So, they won’t perceive any longer so-called Japan’s buying out American assets. The charge was very severe a couple of years ago, particularly here in New York when Japanese company took a minority share in the Rockefeller Center. It was only a minority share but it was reported as if Japanese…this particular Japanese company has taken over the Rockefeller Center, which is not true at all. So there is this general perception that after all Japan is another economy based on market forces and…so that, that conveys a true picture of what Japan is, and you’ve mentioned that the…when we were off camera we talked about this Michael Crichton stories on Japan. You know, it’s a non-fiction…it’s not a non-fiction, it’s a fiction…it’s not a fiction based on images of…created by a particular author, very popular author here in the States, but I read the book and I found that It wasn’t fair at all to the beneficial activities engaged by the Japanese companies operating in the United States. You know, they’re not engaged in wars. They are simply engaged in business activities, and recently Japanese companies, particularly doing business in the States, they are coming forward in the sense of making increased contributions to local community. Over the past couple of years, annually they have been making more than $300 million contributions to local community all over the States. And particularly vis a vis African American community, there have been increasing contacts. So, you know, these recent beneficial developments are not reflected in these books, and I think, you know…well after all, it’s a, it’s a fiction, so I wouldn’t blame much the author. But, maybe it’s a good book for entertainment, not, not to understand reality of the…

Heffner: But your concern is, is not with the validity, but with the acceptance of the image.

Hinata: Yes. I mean, you know, this not a stereotype. I have been addressing these stereotypes for the last four years in New York, and number one stereotype is the, is the image perceived by, generally by Americans, that Japanese market is closed. But currently, in the year 1993, Japanese market is the largest overseas market for American products. It’s larger than British, French and Italian markets combined for American goods. And on a per capita basis, we import probably a slightly larger amount than America imports our Japanese goods. So, well, I mean it’s a large market and it’s almost $50 billion market for American products. Lately, you know, this, this issue of trading balance has come up again on the front burner…

Heffner: Well…

Hinata: …it, it’s with reason because since 1985 America performed very well vis vis Japanese market increasing exports annually at a rate of more than 30%. Up until 1991 when suddenly Japanese economy turned bad and so American exports to Japan dropped, show, registered a modest decrease…whereas American imports of Japanese goods started to increase because of the recovery of American economy. So, you know, this lag…time lag in the economic, respective economic performances would result in a kind of inflated image of the trading balance. But the…but you have to remember that they are trading balance…people talk about it…but it…the people as in 1987 and since it has been falling up until 1991, recently it has widened a bit, but we hope that that will be solved…disappear once Japan’s economy started recover from this recession, and in fact, Japanese government recently introduced $116 billion economic stimulus package to create more domestic demand internally, to promote more imports from overseas, including American goods, and so we hope that this will result in a beneficial effect to really provide a good incentive forward in strengthening our economic partnership. You know when President Clinton met with our Prime Minister Miyazawa, in April, their first meeting, they both expressed the expectations for a new partnership based on long-term vision, based on mutual respect and mutual responsibility. And we need that kind of a relationship because we’re entering into a new era. We’re no long in the year 1953, 40 years ago, when the US alone ha enjoyed more than 40% of the world GNP. Now, 40 years later, in 1993, Japan and the United States…we’re now sharing 40% of the total world GNP. So the relative economic strength has changed, and if you look around you see that the…the environment has changed, global environment…global political landscape has also changed…collapse of Communism, resurgence of regional conflicts. So, you know, there are many factors that have bearings, impacts on our relationship.

Heffner: Well you…you emphasize the economics of this, and I give way to no man in terms of understanding the importance of economics. But, if there is a continuing resolution…that may be too strong a word, of the economic conflicts that have existed, are you satisfied that there are not other sources of antagonism between our two peoples?

Hinata: I don’t think there, there…

Heffner: You don’t.

Hinata: …that source of antagonism between two peoples. I think “antagonism” is too much strong a word to…

Heffner: What would you…how would you characterize it?

Hinata: …employ. Well, probably misunderstandings.

Heffner: Was it a misunderstanding on the part of prominent Japanese to refer to American laborers as “lazy”?

Hinata: Well, in the first place, that was not his…

Heffner: What did he say?

Hinata: …statement.

Heffner: What did he say?

Hinata: Well, he was generally…well, in this case, Prime Minister was generally referring to the relative picture of labor situation. But he was not critical of American workers, at all.

Heffner: What was he critical of?

Hinata: I, I forgot…I don’t have the exact statement here because I didn’t expect to discuss that. But the, the crux of the issue here is that all those reported, or purported remarks, made by Japanese leaders, whether it’s about American workers or whether it’s about African Americans, they were reported incorrectly, inflated out of context, and so…and since we’re in an information age where information would cross the Pacific instantaneously and dissipated widely by all the print and visual media, you know, it, it has great impact on the people’s image. So we have to counter that by presenting a more balanced picture of what actually happened. And, well my, my role is to provide a, you know, role in that area and I have been providing more balanced correct information.

Heffner: Let, let me ask this question. Certainly your countrymen are quite visible in this country. My countrymen are quite visible in your country. If Japan experienced, if you can imagine the possibility of Japan experiencing as much of a flurry of investment, a continuous, and for a long time growing pattern of investment by Americans, and presence in Japan, do you think there would be any negative reaction on the part of the Japanese. I mean here, as you suggested, when the Rockefeller Center was in part…

Hinata: Yes.

Heffner: …only in part, purchased by the Japanese, there was some sense that soon other American institutions, not just motion picture companies, not just other areas of American life would be, well, the word that was used was “invaded”…I wouldn’t use that word, you would use that word…

Hinata: No, that’s inappropriate.

Heffner: We’d use the word “invested”…”investments”. But, could that happen in Japan?

Hinata: Let me say that American investors, are the largest investors already in Japan. And here the problem is that although Japanese investments have been highlighted a lot, the fact of the matter is that there are other countries that have been investing a lot in the United States, far more…like British, like German, like Dutch, like French. Why don’t you criticize these investments, you know?

Heffner: …why do you…

Hinata: Why do you focus on Japanese investments?

Heffner: I guess that’s the question I really want to, to…

Hinata: Yes.

Heffner: …discuss with you. Why do you think that is the case, that there is not that criticism, but there has been that criticism of Japanese investments?

Hinata: Maybe the way the media focuses, highlights certain aspects of Japanese investment. And maybe, maybe…partly because of the reason that Japanese investments have been in the area where they were very visible like taking a share in the Rockefeller Center…it’s a kind of a hallmark of the…of New York. So, it’s visible maybe. But on the other hand, if you look at other developed countries investment into the States, they’re all over in various industries, and another point that I’d like to mention is that in the case of Japanese investments, they’re not Japanese coming in…Japanese companies coming in to take over with force these assets. Initially they…these deals were offered by the American side towards the Japanese business leaders. And so offer…American offers triggered the deal. And so it’s not fair to characterize Japanese investment as a kind of aggressive investment.

Heffner: Yeah, but I..

Hinata: The question is, you know, “why”? well, I don’t know. Maybe there’s still lingering memories of World War the second, and we had this 50th anniversary of this…of Pearl Harbor…a couple of years ago, remember, and I was asked to be on a number of panels discussing the, the impact of that anniversary and the, the issues arising from that. Once that stage has passed we hope that, you know, we would put all these beyond and look forward…

Heffner: But that hasn’t happened, has it?

Hinata: Well, gradually it’s happening we hope, and in fact, in all these economic areas many two-ways flow have been registered, not just in trade, but in investment area. As I said American investors are already the largest in Japan. Certainly we need to make more efforts in improving access in terms of trading investments in Japanese market. After all I say Japanese market is the, is the largest overseas market, so…

Heffner: Have, have American investments in Japan touched up on the equivalence of Japanese investments here in the United States, and here…again talking about Rockefeller Center, talking about motion picture studios, talking about…

Hinata: Well, maybe Japanese thought…Japanese companies did not feel it appropriate to offer those deals, maybe.

Heffner: Now, now…let’s let’s talk about that for, for a moment, because you’ve made the quite salient point that Japan hasn’t “invaded” the United States…

Hinata: No.

Heffner: …Japan has responded to invitations to “Buy me. Buy me.” And you’re saying, too, that perhaps Japanese companies long associated with the homeland would not invite purchases from, from abroad. How do, how do you explain that as an observer, as a person who has been trained here, as well as at home?

Hinata: Well, it’s difficult to, to pull out all the relevant factors here instantly, but maybe, maybe it’s because American investors have not been that serious in looking into the possibilities, opportunities of the available, open in the Japanese market. For example, take the case of American car industry. People talk about Japanese not buying American car product, American cars, American mini-vans, etc. but when President Bush visited Japan in January 1992, he was impressed by the fact that European cars sold well in Japan where, whereas American cars were not performing that well. So, he made that…

Heffner: “performing”…

Hinata: …that well…

Heffner: …but wait a minute…you say “performing”…not selling as well, or not…

Hinata: Not selling as well.

Heffner: …or not driving along the roads as well.

Hinata: Not selling as well. Not selling as well…

Heffner: Which is a function of their…

Hinata: A function of their efforts, too.

Heffner: Well, you’re, you’re referring to sales efforts.

Hinata: Yes.

Heffner: And I was…

Hinata: Function of the American size, American company sales efforts…

Heffner: And the quality of the cars?

Hinata: American companies…yes, of course. In addition to those sales, of course, you have in the first place to make products that suit the Japanese market. And the Japanese markets for this…for foreign cars…for cars in general is that we drive on the left side of the road, so we need a car with the right hand drive.

Heffner: Oh I think the engineers in Detroit are, are competent enough to move the, the steering wheel.

Hinata: It’s just recently that they have seriously decided to invest, to produce cars with the right hand drive to shift to the Japanese market. So, starting next year, I understand, or maybe end of this year, some American “Big 3s” would ship their right hand product to Japanese market.

Heffner: Well, let me…

Hinata: Like Ford.

Heffner: Let, let me ask this question…

Hinata: So, it’s a good sign, isn’t it?

Heffner: …to what extent do you think it is a function, what we’ve been talking about, is a function of simple Japanese patriotism, perhaps…sense of self, sense of difference from the rest of the world. I’m not offering myself for sale, and if you come to buy me, I’m not for sale. Difference between Japanese attitudes and some American attitudes where, perhaps, everything…

Hinata: Yes.

Heffner: …here is for sale.

Hinata: Well, I wouldn’t generalize that much, but certainly there, there’s that point there, that factor there that the Japanese society had to go into this process of reconstructing our nation as a whole after the devastation of the Second World War, and so it took us almost 50 years to come to this stage. So it…

Heffner: You’re not selling yourselves.

Hinata: Most…most of it…most of that period we have to protect our markets so to, to foster our own home-grown industry. But since the late seventies and early 1980s, we realized that our economic strength has reached the stage where we have to seriously address the issues of openness of our society, of our market, and since then we have been exerting tremendous efforts in that area in various ways. In, for example, in de-regulating what we have once regulated so that there will be more market forces, more areas, more rooms for market forces to play, rather than controlled by our bureaucracy. That, that’s a trend that will definitely continue in Japan. And…

Heffner: As part of the national plan?

Hinata: Yes. It’s a Japanese governmental commitment as well as a Japanese business communities’ consensus.

Heffner: You, you…

Hinata: As the second largest economy in the world, we have to act in this international community as an open, transparent society…

Heffner: That is your national economic…

Hinata: …accessible to…yes…

Heffner: …policy…

Hinata: Yes.

Heffner: Maybe that again is a difference. We don’t seem to have a national economic policy. You do.

Hinata: Well, hmm, yes, we have this national economic policy to open our market, improve access of foreign goods to Japanese market, to improve foreign investment into, into Japan. To make our society more open, to make our individual life more quality rich, because although our per capita personal income has reached a stage, has…may have surpassed per capita personal income of, of, of America…individually Japanese people, we do not feel that we’re that quality-wise enriched by the growth of personal income.

Heffner: So that, that is your national economic policy. It could change, too.

Hinata: But this is, this is a kind of conformation of the gradual trend that began to sink into the Japanese society since the 1980s, and particularly after the burst of the bubble economy in the late 1980s. we’re in a serious reflection stage, where all those Japanese companies are now registering losses in profits, losses in turn-overs, they’re not performing that well.

Heffner: Mr.Hinata, I’m sorry. We’ve reached the end of our time…

Hinata: Really?

Heffner: …on this program.

Hinata: That quick?

Heffner: But it is extraordinary to discuss this matter because it’s so uppermost in the minds of so many influential Americans. Thank you for joining me today, Mr. Hinata.

Hinata: Thank you.

Heffner: And thanks, too, to you in the audience. I hope you’ll join us again next time. And if you care to share your thoughts about today’s program, today’s guest, today’s theme, and it’s a controversial one, please write to THE OPEN MIND, P.O. Box 7977, FDR Station, New York, NY 10150. For transcripts send $3.00 in check or money order. Meanwhile, as another old friend used to say, “Good night and good luck.”

Continuing production of this series has generously been made possible by grants from: The Rosalind P Walter Foundation; the M. Weiner Foundation of New Jersey; the Thomas and Theresa Mullarkey Foundation; the New York Times Company Foundation and, from the corporate community, Mutual of America.

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