Portrayals of Japanese

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Ian Buruma, a frequent contributor to The New York Review of Books and a Henry R. Luce professor at Bard College, discusses media portrayals of Japanese people following the earthquake and tsunami -- and the distinction between cultural differences and cultural stereotypes.


Ian Buruma

Comments [21]

Shadeed Ahmad from New York City

The wealthier of the world always get a reprieve in connection to how they are portrayed. Even the peons who work in ivory towers for the more privileged tend to look down their noses at the struggling oppressed in the valley below. The tsunamis of poverty conditions tend to overwhelm most of the valley inhabitants. Meanwhile the survivors will most likely tend to continue to at best be subjugated to continued poverty, but of a post tsunami kind and if considered expendable will experience the requisite negative stereotyping by the status quo. The current tragedies besetting the Japanese people are chilling, however the world economic powers that depend on Japan's economy are doing their best to salvage Japan and their dependent connection to that struggling countries coffers. The poor of New Orleans and Haiti are basically relegated to the status of old news for general consumption via the status quo's massive influence on media apparatus. Ultimately, don't be surprised if Haiti is portrayed better after the "green monster" of status quo investments are placed there for military strategic reasons. Oh, and don't be surprised by the presence of a new version of "Papa Doc" there who will open the way for vast international status quo investments for creating a lucrative international tourism industry with plenty of impoverished Haitians to work as virtual slaves. New Orleans will never be the same as it was before Katrina and massive signs of that reality are already on display. The status quo that is entrenched there could care less about resettling those
African Americans and poor people in general who got displaced. Yet, due to an insatiably sick love of money and dependence on Japan by the international status quo, Japan is having bold attempts made to salvage it, despite its citizens being in a virtually hopeless and toxic environment. Greed is predatory in its nature to even the "so-called" most disciplined and humble of its victims. God help us all who are inadvertently on the menu of the "green monster" of materialism.

Apr. 09 2011 12:09 AM

'in America there was fear of death; here life was separate from Being. A Japanese,on the other hand, must see that life embraces death,and when you feel the truth of this you will gain tranquillity' - from 'snow falling on cedars' by david guterson...

Apr. 06 2011 08:47 PM
John Mulligan

This segment was spectacularly racist. Precisely who was violent during the crisis in New Orleans?
a. The police.
b. Non-uniformed white people with guns.

Is this some kind of joke? John Burnett himself, when he reported in 2005 from New Orleans, said the looting was only for badly-needed supplies. ( Remember, this guy was one of the journalists who reported as fact, and as far as I can tell never retracted, unsubstantiated claims of child-rape and brutal infanticide in the Superdome (he has a great story [] from a few months later that attempts to cover up this mistake by recounting violent crimes, including rape, that are now coming out of the woodwork, and blaming the police for downplaying this. Ex-post-facto justifications--however empirically solid--of shoddy reporting based on the uncritical acceptance of rumors that play to a racist narrative? That's completely the opposite of issuing a responsible retraction.)

So if Burnett "remember[s] some of the Katrina survivors in New Orleans who hauled off liquor bottles, Nike sneakers and flat-screen TVs," ( -- if he remembers that, I haven't come across any first-hand witnessing on his part from that time that would substantiate this memory.

And unless you can justify awakening the zombie idea that it was black "looting" and not violent white racism that was the problem in New Orleans, you all need a second show analyzing why you all didn't have any problem waking this myth back up. Shameful.

Apr. 05 2011 03:03 PM
John Mulligan

This segment was spectacularly racist. Precisely who was violent during the crisis in New Orleans?
a. The police.
b. Non-uniformed white people with guns.

Is this some kind of joke? John Burnett himself, when he reported in 2005 from New

Apr. 05 2011 03:02 PM

"Tsunami brings out some unlikely sympathizers"

On Chinese and Russian bias against Japan, and vise versa, and how the Tsunami is changing that (quite blunt op ed by a Japanese citizen)

Apr. 05 2011 02:30 PM
Lydia Chang from Jackson Heights

04-05-11 around your show at 10:30 am. I tried to call in at your # of 212---433-9692, but your receptionist won't connect me.
This is about the Japanese Portrayal, people were talking about Japanese Virtues;
They probably are perfect citizens either during their peace or their disaster such as the present Earthquake and Tsunami, and show no resentment or disturbance to their government. But I believe Japanese peoples still harbor a great deal of resentment toward either the Chinese government or Chinese people, because of the report that reached me a couple of days ago that right in Tokyo, Japanese people were burning a Chinese flag surrounded by other Japanese people stating they were angry because Chinese did not DONATE enough money for their
disasters. Chinese people reflected that Japanese had forgotten how many millions
of persons wer killed and properties destroyed during the SINO-JAPANESE WAR. I believe the Japanese people are hateful and revengeful, even to the Chinese they had invaded, although they were finally defeated.
Lydia Chang

Apr. 05 2011 11:48 AM
Nate Bowman

I agree wholeheartedly with the Haitian caller. And I am not from Haiti or New Orleans.

When civilization's response to a catastrophe is to take care of it's people, they will behave in a civilized fashion.

When civilization's response to a catastrophe is to abandon a significant number of those suffering, some will respond in what may be interpreted as unruly.

And when civilization does not want to look at its own part in the problem, it will, of course, blame the victims and brand the whole group for the actions of a few.

When civilization does not take care of its people, it is not the people that are barbaric (though the ACTIONS of some may be) but civilization itself.

THAT should be the beginning of the discussion.

Not to mention that many pundits have a predisposition to view poor people and brown people as uncivilized to begin with. All that Japanese culture has to worry about is being portrayed as too stoic and too disciplined. Imagine the uphill treck those from Haiti and New Orleans have to climb just to leave the prejudicial view that they are barbaric or uncivil ized

Apr. 05 2011 11:44 AM
a g from n j

japan was rebuilt by the west. haiti and africa have been, and are, raped by the west. so get off the notion, of any simple idiotic parallel to be drawn between them, office john.....

Apr. 05 2011 11:43 AM
a g from n j

count on john from the office,bringing forth his irrelevant idiocy as usual.

Apr. 05 2011 11:34 AM
LCruz from brooklyn

ask the Chinese, Filipinos,Koreans, or for that matter any of the conquered "sub human inhabited" countries(as japan still see them) how they view the Japanese.

they strive for a "racially pure" culture, a very honorable, humane, civil idea to strive for...

Apr. 05 2011 11:29 AM

@ John:

And we have elected actors in the past? Is one better than the other?

Apr. 05 2011 11:27 AM
Amy from Manhattan

Actually, I do remember hearing after the earthquake in Haiti that people were being very patient & cooperative, & thinking that didn't conform to the stereotype. (Then again, I was listening to public radio!) That behavior lasted weeks or longer, until conditions deteriorated & aid wasn't getting to the people who needed it.

Apr. 05 2011 11:25 AM
John from office

10 years from now Japan will be stronger and rebulit, Haiti will still be a mess. They just elected a singer as president!

Apr. 05 2011 11:23 AM

Suicide rate?

Apr. 05 2011 11:18 AM

Wasn't there looting after 9/11 too? Even in Manhattan. This isn't the Other we're talking about. (You listed Haiti and New Orleans, which could imply a racial stereotype the other way.)

Apr. 05 2011 11:15 AM
dan from Chelsea

to ignore the fact that certain cultures have evolved advantages that enable greater successes than others, and that there is much to learn from them, is to keep other cultures in perpetual poverty and desperation. this is the problem that plagues ethnic and racial groups in america, and countries around the world. none of these cultures have genetic advantages that describe their success, it's all about the culture. read "the wealth and poverty of nations," by David Landes

Apr. 05 2011 11:12 AM
Gregory from Brooklyn

I work at a cafe in Brooklyn and recently spoke with a young client from Tokyo, Japan, staying at a nearby hotel. She told me that she, like many or even most of her friends and family, had left Japan immediately, with no plan, essentially for fear of her health and safety.
How might this stand in respect these questions about cultural norms and/or stereotpyes?

Apr. 05 2011 11:12 AM
A listener

Do the Japanese have a higher rate of depression and suicide than other developed nations?

Apr. 05 2011 11:10 AM
john from office

Brain cannot deal with the fact that one is an asian culture and the other two examples are african or african American culture, where there is a lack of civility. Look at africa today, look at Haiti.

Apr. 05 2011 11:09 AM
a g from n j

i hope there is not an attempt to ignore stereotype. we in america have a tendency to ignore behavior patterns ascribed to groups,however they be defined, because of our own complicated history, with various groups in our own land. the japanese[not all], for better and worse, have a strong culturally driven imperative to follow and respect authority. in this case ,it facilitated nuclear plants being built ,on a fault line and tsunami region no less,and, may very well, have kept them from making optitmal decisions,in an horrific situation. my heart goes out to them.

Apr. 05 2011 10:23 AM
Joshua Jake Levine

Now that Japanese authorities are openly dumping dangerous, radioactive elements directly into the ocean:

-Will Japanese seafood imports be scanned for radiation by the USDA -- (and preferably at their point of origination)?

-It can be assumed that irradiated Japanese seafood is already being purchased at deep discount by profiteers and rebranded for worldwide markets as Chinese, Thai, Singaporean, Vietnamese -- even as US. Is there any authority charged with trying to prevent this activity?

-Is there a run on frozen Japanese seafood, since it is thought of as the only reliably clean seafood left in the world? (There sure is at our local Asian supermarket...)

Apr. 05 2011 09:43 AM

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