Japan's ability to convey information to world
China and South Korea are engaged in international propaganda campaigns over the Senkaku and Takeshima islands--campaigns that refer to historical issues with Japan. It is an essential and urgent task for Japan to strengthen its ability to convey information to the world, and this task is not confined to the area of territorial issues.
Yomiuri Shimbun Senior Writer Ryuichi Otsuka interviewed four renowned experts on what is required for Japan to increase its voice and influence on the international stage. The following are excerpts from the interviews.
President of Forma Corp.
Japanese should be more willing to appear on intl stage
I spent my childhood in Europe and attended a high school and university in Paris. I was, in a sense, an "expat who had yet to return home."
After working at a French bank, I founded a company in Tokyo to help organize international conferences and provide assistance to companies developing overseas business strategies.
As director in charge of Japan affairs at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, for 17 years, I took part in every annual Davos meeting during that period.
Through my experiences, I'd like to touch on a few things I feel are important.
In my view, many Japanese fail to achieve much because they are weak at conveying the points they want to make on the international stage.
When it comes to presenting their point of view overseas, Japanese often become too tense. Their approach is awkward and they speak in such a stereotyped manner that non-Japanese often appear tired of listening to what they perceive as an "official view" typical of the Japanese.
Many Japanese fail to say in a clear-cut way what they really think and what they actually want to do. They are fond of using nuances to express themselves, which non-Japanese find puzzling and hardly intelligible.
In WEF meetings in Davos, foreign participants asked me many times, "What do they really want to say?" However, some Japanese are quite proficient in presenting their views to non-Japanese.
One of them was Akio Morita, the founder of Sony Corp. Although he was not fluent in English, Morita was proficient at pausing at the right moment while speaking and he had a sense of humor.
He was a man of unequivocal commitment, which he conveyed to others in plain language. This earned him an excellent reputation in Davos.
Among Japanese politicians, I think Junichiro Koizumi was great at expressing himself, though he never visited Davos.
Virtually every time I ask a non-Japanese, "Do you know the name of any Japanese prime minister?" they invariably come up with the name "Mr. Koizumi."
This may be partly because of his distinctive appearance and the annual turnover of Japan's prime ministers in recent years. But I think Koizumi, in the eyes of non-Japanese, was especially noteworthy among Japanese politicians because he spoke quite candidly and in as few words as possible.
First, making assertions in broad terms would be good enough, even if they are unsophisticated. Japanese should clearly convey, in their own words, information that foreigners really would like to get.
I must bring up one more important point.
Another politician, the late Ryutaro Hashimoto, also conveyed what he wanted to say in a forthright manner, although his personality was very different from Koizumi's.
Hashimoto was able to think logically and speak in a rational manner.
I strongly hoped Hashimoto would attend a Davos meeting. But whenever I invited him to attend a meeting, he declined. "I'll do so when I become less busy after I step down," he said. But, I think this is the wrong attitude.
Interest in Japan has been diminishing in Davos, like elsewhere in the world.
To reverse the situation, I really want the Japanese, not only political leaders but others now on the front lines of their fields who are extremely busy and sought-after, to stride onto the world stage to clearly convey their thoughts on behalf of the country.
Serizawa is a graduate of the French state-run Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Paris (Paris Institute of Political Studies). After working with Le Credit Lyonnais, a French bank, she founded Forma Corp. in 1992. Serizawa, 54, serves in such positions as adviser to the president of Mori Building Co.
President of the Foreign Press Center
Harness power of media, international bodies
When I was U.N. undersecretary general for communications and public information, I realized anew the tremendous power of the media.
It struck me that such media outlets as The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, the BBC, The Economist and Foreign Affairs magazine are very influential in steering the tone of global discussions on various issues.
For instance, The New York Times is especially influential regarding the United Nations. All U.N. staffers, including the secretary general, read the paper every morning. Whenever it published an editorial concerning us, we had to immediately think about how to respond.
For Japan to strengthen its say at the global level, it must not only convey its various opinions and stances on issues within Japan, but also voice them more frequently in these powerful media.
Unfortunately, very few Japanese people can do that. For instance, only a handful of Japanese articles were carried in Foreign Affairs magazine in the past 20 years, by such personages as Masakazu Yamazaki, Eisuke Sakakibara and Yoichi Funabashi.
What are Japanese scholars of liberal arts doing? They write fine, admirable articles and papers in Japanese and engage in sophisticated discussions, but they have shown little effort to enhance their international influence.
Some Japanese scholars in sciences have been recognized internationally for their research. However, liberal arts scholars have only evolved within Japan--the so-called Galapagos syndrome. I'd like to see them get their message out to the world more.
The language barrier is quite significant, but I think we need to foster human resources that can accomplish this task in various fields.
It also is important to increase the number of Japanese working for international organizations and overseas research institutions.
There still are not that many Japanese staffers at the United Nations. In contrast, the number of Chinese staffers has been large from the outset, as Chinese is one of the international body's official languages. Competent Chinese have been joining the United Nations one after another.
The U.N. Charter stipulates its staff should avoid being influenced by their respective countries' agendas.
However, it is natural for Chinese or other nationalities to protect their countries' interests. If you compare reports written by staff members of different nationalities, you can see subtle differences.
I am boasting a little when I say that while working for the predecessor of the World Trade Organization, I wrote a report about Japan's trade policies on rice. After reading it, a senior official of the organization told me it may be biased toward Japan. But I strongly insisted on its objectivity and the report was adopted.
In tackling these issues, I hold high expectations particularly for the younger generation. They must venture out to other countries and play active roles if Japan is to regain its power and vitality.
Akasaka, 64, took the post of president of the Foreign Press Center in August 2012 after serving as a senior official at the Foreign Ministry and deputy secretary general at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, among other posts.
Translate, publish objective historical works
Being a historian has made me keenly aware of how weak Japan is in transmitting information to the rest of the world.
But simply lamenting the state of affairs will get us nowhere--we need concrete plans to address the problem. Translating objective articles and books by Japanese historians into English would be an easy first step.
For example, if people overseas want to learn about the Nanjing Incident, they are largely limited to "The Rape of Nanking," a book written 15 years ago by Chinese-American author Iris Chang. The book is filled with sensational claims in line with China's exaggeration that 300,000 people were massacred by the Imperial Japanese Army. Readers overseas may view Chang's account as more or less doubtful, but they nonetheless rely on this text because no other is available in English.
The year this book was published, I took part in a panel discussion at Princeton University, where Ms. Chang was participating in such an event for the first time. At 29, Ms. Chang was an attractive young woman with good public-speaking skills. I knew she would be a formidable rival, and, as expected, her book became a best seller and is now tremendously influential.
Japanese experts on the subject are the only ones who can offer counterarguments. It is said that more than 1,000 articles and books have been written on the Nanjing Incident in Japan. Japanese scholars are broadly grouped into three areas: those who believe the Imperial Japanese Army massacred [more than 100,000 people]; those who deny a massacre took place; and those in the middle [who believe a massacre occurred, but put the number of victims at several thousand to several tens of thousands], like myself. The war of words between these groups has been fierce.
However, these arguments have all been for "domestic consumption." There are several books on the subject I think are reliable, but none has been translated into English.
The same goes with the issue of "comfort women" and Japan's various territorial disputes. Only a fraction of the objective documentation and works on the topics have been translated into English.
To explain these historical issues, the government and other interested parties have purchased opinion ads and given speeches in the United States and Europe. But opinion ads are generally regarded as one-sided, and have little credibility. People who have attempted verbal explanations have found it difficult to fully express their views.
I therefore think we need to translate into English works by Japanese scholars who have summed up [using first-hand accounts, data, documents and other material] the Nanking Incident, comfort women and the territorial issues.
When choosing works to translate, we should give priority to academic works that are easy to read. Footnotes indicating sources are essential, as are indexes. It is also important to maintain objectivity when relating facts--including those that put Japan in a bad light--and describing the history of the controversy over each issue. The final judgment should be left to the readers.
Next, we should select good translators and pay them appropriately, and seek major overseas publishing houses for publication. These are important points.
I believe that the fires that erupt over territorial and historical issues must be extinguished when they are small. Putting out huge conflagrations like those that have engulfed the Nanjing Incident and comfort women require a tremendous effort.
Hata, 80, is a University of Tokyo graduate who later studied at Harvard and Columbia universities. After graduation, he joined the Finance Ministry, where he headed an office in charge of chronicling the U.S. Occupation of Japan (1945-1952). He has served as a history professor at several universities, including Nihon University, and is the author of "Nanjing Incident" and "Ianfu to senjo no sei" (Comfort women and battlefield sex).
Representative director of Nippon Communications Foundation
Minor differences should not be ignored
Nippon.com, which publishes information, opinions and event reports on Japan in multiple languages, was launched in October 2011 with backing from the Nippon Foundation. The website is operated by the Nippon Communications Foundation.
The site currently features content in six languages--Japanese, English, Chinese, French, Spanish and Arabic. Russian will be added in 2013, letting us meet our goal of providing information in Japanese and the six official languages of the United Nations. After Russian is added, we will be able to reach 70 percent to 80 percent of the world's population.
It is precisely because Japan's national strength has waned that it is more necessary than ever to actively promote our nation to the rest of the world. Nippon.com was the nation's first multilingual attempt to address this concern, but the response has been enthusiastic and the number of visitors to the site has increased.
The website is produced by nearly 70 people in all, including reporters, translators and outside contributors.
The site publishes one article per day. We try to give plenty of time to on-site reporting and interviews, so we can deliver stories of long- lasting interest to our readers. Articles for the website are decided at editorial board meetings attended by our in-house staff.
We have learned a few things in our short career.
First, the level of knowledge and understanding about Japan varies among the different linguistic areas.
For instance, French people are generally familiar with Japan, while people in Central and South America have little knowledge about Japan, similar to the level seen in Arabic-speaking countries.
When we publish information about Japan to people overseas, we tend to assume they have a certain amount of knowledge about our nation. However, making such assumptions can make us complacent about our jobs.
Accordingly, interests in and concerns about Japan also differ by language.
For example, Chinese people are more interested in practical information such as on business or technology, and also in reading articles about China, probably to see how Japanese people view their country.
Meanwhile, French people show a strong interest in anime and other aspects of pop culture. However, a story about the way air flows through an old home built with traditional Japanese methods was the most viewed by French readers, indicating the importance they place on nature.
Japan's Imperial family is a popular topic among Western people, probably because of its uniqueness.
If we want to produce appealing content, we need to understand differences like these between linguistic areas or countries.
We must work diligently and with great attention to detail if we want people from different cultures to understand ours. Small misunderstandings can eventually lead to great misunderstandings or even conflict.
In domestic politics, there has been a lot of buzz about ignoring minor differences for the sake of greater common interests, but we should not ignore minor differences when promoting Japan overseas.
Harano, 64, was a political reporter with Jiji Press before becoming deputy director of the firm's news department. He came to his current post after a stint as president of Japan Echo Inc., publisher of a bimonthly magazine featuring English translations of essays and articles from Japanese opinion magazines.