Over the past 20 years, technology in communications has grown at an incredible pace. As a result, not only have distances been made shorter, but age-old barriers such as language and culture have become mere speed bumps in today's ever increasing, interdependent societies. The widespread proliferation of wireless technology and the Internet have provided the means to any man, woman, and child with a computer to access any and all kinds of information regardless of geographic location or time of day. Riding the tech bandwagon, mass media has increasingly become more and more relevant, as human beings and businesses of all shapes and sizes, perhaps now more than ever before, are constantly finding themselves in need of being globally informed in order to survive in a highly competitive environment.
Hand in hand with media growth, issues of dependability and unfiltered information have gained just as much prevalence, creating a shift in human perceptions regarding global news. It is no longer important to know how I can get information, but rather where I can find it in the fastest, most unbiased, un-opinionated way. In Japan, however, it appears as though this process has been one of playing catch-up as both television and print media continue to engage in the persuasion game, influencing its citizens to such a degree, that the vast majority still base their opinions of others on decade-old stereotypes and cliches.
In a 2004 lecture given to a group of Ohio State University students, Dr Carlos Cortes, a professor at the University of California at Riverside argued that “television and movies teach society by providing information. They serve as a 'gatekeeper' for information, deciding what gets out and what does not.”
One needs only to look at one of the many recent scandals involving the food poisoning-related deaths of several people in China to understand Cortes' point. Instead of simply providing the facts, the Japanese media took it upon itself to create a circus around the issue, condemning the Chinese with thunderous claims of low food safety standards and reckless behavior exercised by their government. If I did not know any better, I would have thought by how the Japanese media handled the news that the Chinese were all lucky to be alive. After all, how could they, if all their food is bad, unhealthy, and poisonous?
Invariably, the murky state of Japan-China relations is nothing new. Nor is the fact that newspapers and TV programs are businesses like any other and scandalous information sells. This is only an example. However, there is an underlying danger in believing everything you see and hear, especially for a country like Japan, a nation of more than 120 million geographically isolated people who are trying to open their doors to a globalized world but rarely go abroad for more than a couple of weeks at a time. Stereotyping not only leads to prejudice and prevents the Japanese from truly experiencing other cultures, but it also creates unwanted misunderstandings and even bad experiences if and when they do go overseas.
Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with a Japanese friend of mine, a doctor who had just come back from a worldwide tour for which she planned and saved for more than 10 years. Having looked at hundreds of pictures, I asked her what the most interesting part of her trip had been. She proceeded to tell me that for her, the most enriching experience was finally letting go of the notions she had of other peoples and their countries. The best wine she tasted was not in France or Italy, but in Argentina. She did get mugged once, but not in South Africa or Lebanon; they stole her purse in Montreal. She had food poisoning twice, but not in any city in China. The first time she got sick was while eating an overpriced sandwich in Dusseldorf; the second, a “healthy chicken salad” in New York.
Prior to her journey, she believed Paris and Rome to be the most beautiful, cleanest cities in the world. Although they were in fact beautiful, they were also anything but clean. Instead, the streets were filled with cigarettes butts, garbage, and worst of all, dog excrement. “Cities in South America are not as dangerous as Japanese people think,” she said to me. “The nicest people I met were in Africa, Korea, and Costa Rica, much friendlier than Americans, Canadians, or Europeans. The best food I ate was in Turkey and Morocco. We Japanese need to open our eyes…”
Perhaps one of the many reasons why post-World War II Japan was able to grow at such a rapid pace was the ability of an entire country to look inwards, the drive to rise and meet global challenges by developing from within. Now, however, it is time to look outwards, time for the Japanese to look beyond the thick walls of mass media and truly see for themselves what the outside world is all about.© Japan Today