[Mythbusters] Why Trash-Talk Japan and Feed the NYT’s Blatantly Racist Editorializing?

 

 

 

On February 26, the New York Times (NYT) published an opinion piece by Koichi Nakano, identified only as “professor of political science at Sophia University.” This screed was entitled “Japan Can’t Handle the Coronavirus. Can It Host the Olympics?” and began by declaring, “The Japanese government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak has been staggeringly incompetent.”

 

On March 2, the NYT published a muted Japanese government response to the highly partisan opinion piece. Oddly, The Sankei News article about this response appeared among the most-read articles (Number 1) on May 8, possibly due to a Twitter post about the article.

 

 

What Did the Article Say?

 

The criticism of Prime Minister Shizo Abe and his government was rather mundane and echoed what had been said previously in both foreign and domestic reports:

 

  • The government was slow to act.
  • There were personal protective equipment (PPE) shortages.
  • There was limited testing, and seeking a test was discouraged.
  • Infection was spreading among the passengers and crew onboard the Diamond Princess.
  • When the quarantine of the Diamond Princess passengers was ended, they were not tested.
  • Government officials who had boarded the ship were not tested later.
  • Abe was not focused on the epidemic.
  • Abe is a hereditary politician not popular with the people.

 

None of these claims are totally false. Some have substantial validity. The issue for me is the venue for making these statements and what readers of the NYT were not told.

 

 

Who is Nakano Koichi?

 

The author of this piece is indeed a Jochi (Sophia) university professor, but he is no detached Ivory Tower academic. He is decidedly left wing. A reviewer partial to Nakano and his writing has described him as “a leading voice in the anti-Abe movement.”

 

Unless well-versed in Japanese politics and academia, there is no way for a foreign reader to judge how seriously to take Nakano. The NYT failure to provide a proper bio was irresponsible.

 

 

Nakano as a Sound Bite Source

 

Because of his fluency in English and left-wing politics, Nakano is a frequent source of sound bites for foreign journalists. That was particularly the case in the period up to the cancellation of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

 

Typical of his statements is this one made to CNBC: “Instead of demonstrating and winning international trust about Japan’s crisis management capability ahead of the Olympics, he (Abe) did just the opposite and made the international community doubt if Japan can handle this.” 

 

Although toned down for the NYT piece, his rhetoric elsewhere might well put off even some NYT readers who are uncomfortable with the “socialism” of Bernie Sanders. Even more so would be his apparent attraction for the Japan Communist Party, although I would stress that it is now more of a European-style social democratic party than the Stalin-era bogeyman of American political history.

 

In making his criticism of how the Japanese government handled the Diamond Princess, Nakano betrays, as have many other commentators, a stunning lack of knowledge about what quarantines of ships or geographical areas are intended to accomplish.  

 

Quarantines are intended to limit or preferably stop the spread of infection from the quarantined population to the population outside of quarantine.  Limiting the spread of infection within the quarantined ship or area is at most a very secondary consideration.

 

This was pointed out in various venues, including the NBR Japan Forum.  How Japan handled the Diamond Princess may have been bad in PR terms, but it was not notably different from other cruise ship cases or geographical quarantines in this period.

 

 

The Olympics Conspiracy Theory

 

Nakano has also been a contributor to what I call the Olympics Conspiracy Theory, the idea that the Abe government was hiding the true level of infection in Japan in order to keep alive a July start for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

 

For example, Nakano was cited in an early April attempt by the U.S. television network ABC to keep the Olympics Conspiracy Theory alive. In an article headlined “Japan’s sudden spike in coronavirus cases after Tokyo Olympics postponement raises eyebrows,” he supplies four separate quotations taken by the authors as supportive of the conspiracy theory.

 

I, for one, am extremely skeptical of the Olympics Conspiracy Theory. It requires that one believe that essentially the entire medical establishment, as well as all local governments, acquiesced in the conspiracy. Yet, Abe’s many critics have yet to find any concrete evidence of its existence.  

 

 

Why Japanese Partisan Politics in the ‘New York Times’

 

British friends have suggested that the Abe-bashing in American liberal media is really stealth Trump-bashing. There may be some merit to this — Nakano has described Abe as “Trump before Trump.” But while there may well be this perception on the part of U.S. editors, there is no reality behind it.

 

My own view based on two decades of research and teaching about “Japan in the Foreign Imagination” is that articles like this are stealth whataboutism intended to reassure foreign readers, primarily Americans in this case, of their superiority over the Japanese.

 

 

Why Trash the Japanese Government in the NYT?

 

I am a Japanese citizen. I can and do vote. I do not vote for the LDP. In questioning Nakano’s treatment of Abe, I am not singing “Stand By Your Man.” I too have my questions about how the Abe government responded to the Diamond Princess and subsequent developments. I even share Nakano’s view that Yuriko Koike, the governor of Tokyo, has proven a more effective and engaged leader than Abe, and I am particularly pleased because I voted for her.

 

I cannot, however, see any utility whatsoever in Nakano trash-talking Abe and his government before the NYT readership. Doubtless there are Japanese voters who read the NYT. Indeed, I am one, but I doubt there are many, even any, of us who make our voting booth choices on the basis of what Nakano or anyone else writes in the NYT.

 

A bigger issue for me is how foreign readers respond to commentary of this type, especially when it comes from a Japanese academic. The NYT does not allow comments to items in the “Opinion” series, but comments to similar criticism in the Japan Times and Japan Today can serve as a proxy for the missing NYT comments. These range from questioning the intelligence of the Japanese who vote for the LDP (Abe as a prime minister is elected by party members, not general voters) to blatantly racist statements about Japan and the Japanese.

 

 

Where is the Update to This Piece?

 

Nearly three months have passed since Nakano’s screed was published.  Contrary to what should have followed from the policy failures listed by Nakano, Japan seems to have weathered the pandemic far better than a number of countries, including Britain, Italy, and Spain, to say nothing of the United States.

 

Despite having only a voluntary “lockdown” because of constitutional limits on the power of the prime minister, there was a high level of compliance with both national and local government requests that people stay home and that they practice physical distancing when necessity required that they be out and about.

 

Grudging recognition that Japan appears to have done rather well has started to appear in English. The title of the most detailed article on the situation in Japan as of mid-May perfectly described the situation.  “Japan’s coronavirus response is flawed — but it works.” Nothing comparable has appeared in the NYT.

 

Since mid-January, the NYT Tokyo bureau chief Motoko Rich has repeatedly cited the lack of testing in Japan in articles and on Twitter leaving the impression that Japan was on the verge of calamity. Now that this appears not to be the case, rather than analyze why Japan escaped disaster, she has returned to what appears to be her favorite theme: unequal (by her standards) gender relations in Japan, especially the division of housework.  In so doing she is once again reassuring New York Times readers of their superiority vis a vis the Japanese.

 

 

Conclusion

 

Only Nakano can say why he chose to trash-talk Abe in the NYT in English. He can do it in Japan in both Japanese and English. He has in fact done this a number of times. He is not, for example, a Uighur in China facing arrest for even the most minor criticism of the Chinese government. 

 

Only the New York Times editors can explain why they chose to run an extremely partisan piece that involves political issues with no relevance to American readers.

 

Whatever the reasoning, both have much to answer for, Nakano more so than the NYT because he has other options on the one hand. On the other hand, the anti-Japanese bias of the NYT is structural, and has manifested itself in other blatantly racist editorializing. Making someone who writes condescending, clichéd, and repetitious articles its Tokyo bureau chief is a further sign of NYT contempt for Japan and the Japanese.

 

Nakano, with his years in the U.S. and the U.K., should be well aware of the cultural racism that is found among Anglophone elites. And he should be doing nothing to feed it. Similarly, Japanese individuals and corporations should be doing nothing to feed the NYT revenue through paid subscriptions or advertising.

 

Author: Earl H. Kinmonth

 

Earl Kinmonth

Author:

Earl H. Kinmonth is professor emeritus at Taisho University. Before moving to Japan in 1997, he was reader in Japanese Studies at the University of Sheffield (1989-1997) and professor of history at the University of California-Davis (1977-1989). His research is in the history and sociology of Japanese education from the Meiji period to the present, with an emphasis on 1930s-1940s Japan. He is a Japanese citizen and writes commentary in English and Japanese, and does Japanese English translation. He is currently writing a book on foreign media coverage of Japan under the working title Japan in the Foreign Imagination.

9 Comments

  • Aside from the absolutely uncalled-for ad-hominem attack on Professor Nakano, the entire article was just a reactionary whine-fest about critical coverage. The point about China was a complete non-sequitur. Japan is a democratic country and a member of the OECD and it is absurd to take Communist China as the point of comparison and use that to attempt to discredit critical journalism. What a sad, bad faith attempt to discredit foreign journalists by Mr. Kinmonth

    • Critical coverage/journalism? We’re dealing with a paper that has chosen to write on the victims of Covid-19 rather than honor the fallen soldiers on Memorial Day.

      Mr. Kinmonth’s point about the Chinese government and Uyghur reveals the cowardice of those like Nakano to chastise Japan in English instead of in the native tongue of these Left-leaning agitators. Even though there’s absolutely no fear of retaliation within Japan that would resemble anything like what ethnic minorities in China would face, it’s the old Communist trick to go to their international networks pretending to be scared and oppressed. The New York Times does not provide backgrounds of those with Leftist ideology; instead, they hide it and present them as supposedly mainstream.

      It is no secret that China and certain other nations would love to have the Tokyo Olympics canceled. This type of hit piece based on the tongue of a Communist sympathizer only highlights their unrelenting desire to achieve their goal. Unfortunately, constructive criticism, a much higher calling devoid of hidden agendas, will never be part of the likes of Nakano’s repertoire.

      At least you recognize that Japan is an important ally of America – it’s undeniably the most vital geopolitical partner she has in the Pacific, and that is why a fair and balanced reporting is indispensable in the Western world. Japan deserves so much better.

      • I think you need to work on your English syntax and grammar because that quite literally made no sense. It is absolutely astonishing that you suggest that remembering the victims of an ongoing pandemic is suggestive of some kind of bias. Memorial Day is a holiday, not a news event that merits being on the front page of a newspaper. You have not defended the non-sequitur aspects of this article.

        I am not sure what you mean when you speak of “cowardice.” How is it cowardly for Professor Nakano to respond to requests for interviews? He speaks his mind in every language that he speaks. Indeed, other professors would be quoted if they could provide reasonable sound bites, but the absolute hilarious nonsense that is usually provided by Sankei and its contributors when attempting to communicate with the outside world means that their statements are unusable. I suppose when you follow an ideology that suggests that Japanese people are racially superior descendants of gods, you are unwilling to hire foreign proofreaders to check your work. A good examplel of this is Sankei’s book “History Wars” which has been spammed by LDP politicians to foreign academics. The book is poorly proofread and rife with grammatical errors and misspellings. Perhaps if Japanese conservatives put some effort into actually producing coherent content they would be quoted in the foreign media more.

        It is not a standard practice of journalists in the 21st century to use unhinged McCarthyist language like you are doing. The New York Times has named Professor Nakano correctly as a professor of political science at Sophia University.He is a tenured professor with a multitude of peer-reviewed publications. Smearing him as a Communist does not remove these achievements.

        Meanwhile, the Sankei Shimbun will often label its contributors with cursory honorary professor or emeritus professor titles, even though their actual day jobs consist of running pressure groups. For instance, Takubo Tadae and Takahashi Shiro are religious activists with limited academic credentials, but the Sankei presents them as academics.

        • Your poor excuse for a rebuttal is totally unnecessary if you feel what’s been posted “literally made no sense.” In other words, save your pseudo-intellectual twaddle for the likes of NY Times, WA Po, LA Times, and others that may not even be around that long. Your grotesque lack of understanding of what Memorial Day means to Americans puts you in their league rather well.

          Bringing up McCarthyism is so typical and quite laughable – you’ve already capitulated by default. At least you didn’t invoke Hitler and the Germans. The bigger picture will forever escape you, so let us very briefly indulge in the article’s central theme.

          For your enlightenment, it’s those that attack Japan regularly who plainly convey racial or ethnic superiority. How you mock the Japanese Right-wing for substandard proofreading skills and so forth is a textbook case. To you, whatever Leftists say and write is golden. I don’t identify with any group in Japan, but the overwhelming bias by the Western media is inexcusable. It’s not because they cannot find Japanese English speakers from one side; they are simply of no interest. Besides, there are plenty of Japanese-speaking journalists in Tokyo, but how often do they present another point of view? Almost never.

          It’s so hypocritical to accuse others of ‘ad hominem’ attacks when that’s what you seem to specialize in. Look at your pathetic comment on the comfort woman article. But for laughs, if you think Lee Yong-soo has been telling the truth all these years, which story of hers do you believe in and why? The matter is now way beyond salvaging the credibility of one activist.

  • It is not really up to Mr. Kinmonth what the New York Times publishes. As to why they would publish information about Japan, that would be because Japan is the world’s third-largest economy and an important ally of the US; it is breathtakingly presumptuous to assume that Japanese issues are “no relevance to American readers.” Does he think that Americans are incapable of involving themselves with the outside world?

  • Earl, honey, it is Ivy Tower, not Ivory Tower.
    And it iwas Steve Bannon, Trump’s adviser, who said Abe was ‘Trump before Trump.’
    Mighty white of you to defend your rightwing Japanese handlers.

    • Mindy… you’re so much less relevant than the Swedish kid Greta trying to sound coherent about COVID-19. Tell your Commie masters that the world has completely changed, that you’ve outlived your usefulness as a disgruntled, almost-forgotten fringe issue hack.

  • President Trump called CNBC and NYT “fake news and the enemy of people”. NYT was expelled from White House Press Conference Room. NYT being the enemy of people is sufficent to negate the credibility of every anti-Japan article it publishes.

Leave a Reply