Japan, Lost in Translation?

While doing my  morning cyber-news surfing, ran across this in the WSJ OpEd page.  Think the author is on to something;  that Japan is slowly becoming irrelevant, but that’s she’s also missed a great deal too.

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7 Responses to Japan, Lost in Translation?

  1. The first two paragraphs were interesting anyhow; couldn’t go further without a subscription.

    • Huh! Guess there’s always cut’n paste.

      “Japan: Lost in Translation?
      Why the world’s third largest economy has dropped out of the global conversation. Article Comments (6) more in Opinion »Email Print Save This ↓

      How many Americans knew there was an election in Japan this week, or that the yen recently hit a 15-year high against the dollar? These questions underscore a serious problem. Japan, despite being a major trade partner and a crucial ally in Asia, is flirting with irrelevance.

      Maybe we’re too busy obsessing about China, which recently eclipsed Japan to become the world’s second-largest economy. There was a time when Japanese goods seemed to speak for themselves, but that era is over. Japan needs a new PR strategy. Its decision makers could start by showing their faces to the world.

      High-profile Japanese must become more comfortable with the Western media. Akio Toyoda learned this lesson the hard way. His delayed public appearance after last year’s firestorm in the U.S. over sticking accelerator pads earned him the nickname “no-show Akio.” Toyota’s management came off as opaque and elusive—not a good look for a company that wants to regain public trust.

      Even in non-crisis situations, big Japanese companies might avoid the media. As one former Tokyo-based correspondent told me, “I have been shocked to call up companies and say, I want to write a flattering story on you, and they say, no, you can’t . . . Companies think the press is something to be called up when they have something to say or announce, and otherwise can be ignored.”

      Many Americans like to see the face behind a company. But Mitsuru Obe, a reporter at Jiji Press News Agency, says that’s not necessarily how it’s done in Japan. “Decisions are often made in a group rather than by a charismatic leader. It is not necessary or even desirable for the leader to offer his thoughts and visions through interviews with the media.”

      To be sure, American executives are not always forthcoming. But a certain reticence seems ingrained in Japanese corporate culture. Hajime Matsuura, a visiting fellow at Columbia Business School, says, “In Japan, relations with the press are generally regarded as a zero-sum game where if a company gives information, they lose control.”

      Avoidance of the media is not limited to the corporate world. A few years ago I tried to write a profile for this newspaper of a Japanese author whose book had just come out in the U.S. I thought she would embrace the publicity. Instead, her office threw logistical obstacles in my path until I finally withdrew my request. Months later she explained she was once misinterpreted by a Western journalist and was now constantly on guard.

      This fear of being misunderstood runs deep in Japan, along with the dread of being “wrong.” Experts will plead for more time to think, or turn down an interview to avoid making an inaccurate statement. This attitude may have roots in the Japanese education system. Students, under extreme pressure to pass their university entrance exams, know that incorrect answers could cost them their future.

      Another reason for this one-way approach to the media is Japan’s “press club” culture. For generations some Japanese reporters have served more as mouthpieces for government officials than aggressive truth seekers. This system may be changing, but press coverage can still feel controlled. Japanese interview subjects might set strict time limits or ask to see questions beforehand. This helps ensure a stilted article without a shred of personality.

      Orlando Camargo, the Tokyo-based president of Ogilvy Public Relations, describes Japan’s relationship with the media as an “orchestrated opera.” Japanese executives say to themselves, “We sell our cars, we sell our radios, what else do you need?” But as Toyota’s recent PR nightmare shows, that doesn’t cut it anymore. If the Japanese don’t speak to the world, they will be left out of the conversation.

      Ms. Parker, a senior fellow at Asia Society’s Center on U.S.-China Relations, is writing a book about the Internet and democracy. “

  2. The article stopped here: Ms. Parker, a senior fellow at Asia Society’s Center on U.S.-China Relations, is writing a book about the Internet and democracy. “

    Is there more?!

  3. Really? The hanging quote mark that follows the final sentence “…is writing a book about the Internet and democracy.” suggests more text, the book’s title perhaps. It’d be rare for the WSJ to drop a ball that visibly but if you say that’s the end, then evidently they did. 😦

  4. Ohmigoodness. I’ll dash off an email to inform them.

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