national

Columnist suggests language tests for foreign journalists

77 Comments

In a Sankei Shimbun column titled "The Cobblestones of London," UK-based journalist Nobiru Okabe reviews his assignment to the city, where he finds the diversity of humanity as resembling a "mixed vegetable salad."

Some 80% of London's current population, Okabe writes, is comprised of people originating from overseas. According to national census figures, UK-born Caucasians now account for just 44.9% of the entire population.

After World War II, Britons, disdaining physical labor, accepted large numbers of immigrants from former colonies in Asia, Africa and the West Indies, and more recently from the Middle East and Eastern Europe. These led in turn to wider diversification of English society and multiculturalism. The population problem was a part of the history of Great Britain itself, with the English spoken by the varied races jumbled to form their own distinctive dialects, thereby diversifying the English language as well.

To obtain a working visa, Okabe was obliged to take an examination in the English language. "I thought this was somewhat incongruous as similar knowledge of the language was not required when I went to study in the United States in the early 1990s; nor was it required by Russia, where I had been posted," he writes.

"Upon being assigned to the UK, however, I became acutely aware of how a correspondent should acquire the language in order to understand England.

"Prior to my assignment, while a member of the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan, I felt it was scandalous that foreign correspondents who could not speak Japanese, regularly filed stories that demonstrated an 'anti-Japanese' bias. It might be that if foreign correspondents were required, as a condition for issuance of their visa, to demonstrate proficiency in the Japanese language, this might lead to a better understanding of Japan."

© Japan Today

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

77 Comments
Login to comment

Flawed premise. Some of Japan's harshest critics are fluent Japanese speakers.

26 ( +28 / -3 )

My take on that Mr. Okabe is that if those foreign correspondents were to speak and understand Japanese better, their supposed "anti-Japanese" bias might be reinforced.

29 ( +30 / -2 )

He makes a very valid point, and should be one that's raised in any country that produces news. However, this could also read as creating an excuse for the shortfalls of journalism in Japan. In other words, tying a seemingly 'insufficient' grasp of the Japanese language to 'anti-Japanese bias' is a bit of a stretch. He may be mistaking this so-called 'bias' as a more 'hard-hitting' form of investigative journalism.

As I'm sure he's aware, the British media (and to the same extent, Australian media)(where I'm from) takes great liberty in self-deprication. It's part of journalism, it's part of the culture. It's healthy & opens the table to critique & further discussion.

On the same token, unlike foreign media outlets, Japan is largely protected by it's one-dimensional kisha cartels (a title taken from the book Closing the Shop: Information Cartels and Japan's Mass Media by Laurie Anne Freeman). Is he aware of just how deep this goes?

17 ( +18 / -2 )

Whereas English is the lingua franca of these times... Japanese is an islandish local language spoken by ever decreasing numbers. It is rather the caracter and value canon of the international writer which will show in his/hers work.

10 ( +14 / -4 )

What he wants is a course in brain-washing and unquestionable acceptance of nationalist propaganda, not language education. He most certainly wouldn't say he understood England if he said being against certain aspects of Jaoanese history meant people had to study a "language" test.

11 ( +18 / -7 )

It might be that if foreign correspondents were required, as a condition for issuance of their visa, to demonstrate proficiency in the Japanese language, this might lead to a better understanding of Japan

So they can demonstrate the appropriate levels of obsequy? Or hear one and know ten (i.e. nothing) at the kisha club briefings?

13 ( +15 / -2 )

But, the Japanese have one of the highest illiteracy rates of developed countries. If japanese don't have to learn the language why should foreigners?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Obviously, journalists would do a far better job if they could speak the language of the country they are posted to. I have met many foreign correspondents who do speak good Japanese, while others rely on their Japanese research assistants.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Would Okabe assert that no native speaker of Japanese would make the same observations that a non-Japanese journalist would, and that, if a Japanese native speaker did so it would not lend credence to the validity of the observations of the journalist?

4 ( +5 / -1 )

Only in Japan......well for the moment also Korea and China.....but not for much longer, then it will be only in Japan

In many countries of the world today a persons inability to speak English basically excludes them from holding a senior political, educational or economic position in their own country.

I'm not saying that it's right, but it's a fact. A fact that this journalist seems to ignore.

1 ( +4 / -4 )

"foreign correspondents... required... to demonstrate proficiency in... Japanese"

Does that extend to JT posters?? ;-)

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Mr Okabe's argument that foreign correspondents working in Japan should learn to understand the Japanese language is quite sensible and reasonable. I agree with him 100 percent..

-13 ( +7 / -20 )

So he starts off talking about a city that is multicultural with 80% of residents from abroad then extrapolates that the situation there is somehow applicable to Tokyo? Very weak argument to say the least.

Also, someone tell Mr. Okabe that Japanese is not an international language. Maybe Chinese...

7 ( +9 / -3 )

I am sure many English people will be gratified then that due to the test of his language proficiency Mr Okabe never files anti-English copy. But can it really be that simple?

2 ( +5 / -3 )

I felt it was scandalous that foreign correspondents who could not speak Japanese, regularly filed stories that demonstrated an ‘anti-Japanese’ bias.

Define bias. Not kissing butts and pretending that everything is ok?

It might be that if foreign correspondents were required, as a condition for issuance of their visa, to demonstrate proficiency in the Japanese language, this might lead to a better understanding of Japan.”

Then you will get NO foreign journalists. Maybe that's what he wants...

Also, bear in mind that usually those who have no understanding of Japanese are Japan's strongest defenders. Ignorance is bliss.

15 ( +16 / -3 )

being fluent in Japanese wont give the the Japanese mindset, most Japanese are fluent speakers and they understand what japan is about, its the mindset that forces them to toe the line and not speak out or speak ill of Japan itself, even if they have many grievances

5 ( +6 / -1 )

Are the non=japanese fluent speakers writing in Japanese? I am confused. I would love to read some of his English, and see if he was actually worthy to be in England or America.

6 ( +8 / -2 )

I worked for a traditional style Japanese company for many years both in Japan and the USA. I was asked after 2-3 months in Japan when was I going to be able to speak Japanese. I worked in an export department where eveyone was almost fluent in English so there was no inter departmental communication issue as I had been communicating with that department for several years prior to moving to Japan. The fact that someone wants to complain that Japanese correspondents or foreign correspondents must speak fluent Japanese is ridiculous in today's world.

3 ( +7 / -5 )

I would argue the exact opposite of Mr. Okabe. Familiarity — a "better understanding" — often breeds contempt.

When I was new to Japan and understood very little of the language or the people, I was overwhelmingly positive. It was only after I started to understand the language and what was going on around me that I began to see the warts.

This Pollyannic idea that any negative take on the country must be due to lack of a "proper understanding" is one of the most often repeated and laughable myths among Japanese people in Japan. The fantasy holds that if you only understood the language all negative notions and grievances regarding Japan would disappear. This mindset explains a lot about Japan's "head in the sand," "sweep it under the rug" approach to addressing problems.

Knowing the language of any nation certainly leads to a better understanding of that nation; I agree with Okabe there. But I think what he does not realize is that a better understanding in many respects also leads to greater "negative bias." That holds true in Japan, in the U.S., anywhere.

16 ( +16 / -1 )

Why does he assume that being fluent in Japanese will lead to less "anti-Japan" bias? Knowing a language does not equate to loving a place uncritically and unconditionally. If anything, it makes you more aware of the kinds of duplicity that go on in political circles and the weakness of the arguments employed.

Besides, I haven't seen any anti-Japanese bias in the British media. If anything, they tiptoe around Japan a bit too much.

13 ( +13 / -1 )

It's a no brainier that a passing familiarity with the language will help an individual with a better understanding of the country they're living in ,but it will hardly change their agenda. Okabe would seem to have had a bee in his bonnet before leaving Japan. The foreign correspondents club is hardly fed raw news and foreign correspondents, Japanese speakers or not, get little opportunity for investigative journalism.

I'm a little concerned by the figures presented, if 80% of Londons population is foreign born, how can 45% be 'White British'?

4 ( +4 / -0 )

I felt it was scandalous that foreign correspondents who could not speak Japanese, regularly filed stories that demonstrated an ‘anti-Japanese’ bias. It might be that if foreign correspondents were required, as a condition for issuance of their visa, to demonstrate proficiency in the Japanese language, this might lead to a better understanding of Japan.”

Fluency in a language does not equal cultural literacy nor understanding. There are plenty of Japanese who can understand English very well but are still bigoted and "anti" foreigner.

Sure language proficiency is a plus, however it is not going to stop "anti-Japanese" bias if that is what the correspondent is looking to write about.

11 ( +12 / -2 )

London's population is not 80% comprised of people born overseas, that's complete nonsense. The 44.89% white British figure is correct; that clearly means 80% cannot have arrived from overseas.

The point of the language test isn't to stop journalists writing "anti-British" reports. It's to assuage those in the UK who don't like immigration. Having a Japnese language test for foreign journalists in Japan wouldn't magically make them stop criticising the things they criticise.

5 ( +7 / -2 )

So he is assuming that with language comes praise and understanding of a culture? The opposite can also happen - more to do with attitude of writer and realty than language ability. I speak Japanese well but I am critical of various aspects of Japan just like anyone would be.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

I don't think a truly good journalist needs to speak the local language. As a consumer of news, I often question the objectivity of any foreign correspondent who's fluent in the local language. I either assume that they have family ties to the country or a personal interest or fetish for the place. Clearly, anyone who's invested years in learning a language is going to have some degree of personal interest or bias in portraying that country as being relevant or in a positive light (even if the truth is quite the opposite).

For example, look at the BBC correspondent Carrie Gracie who speaks fluent Mandarin. She's been living in China for years, has a degree in Chinese studies, has a Chinese spouse and family, and is by all accounts an expert on China. She produces interesting work but you'll never see her reporting on any extremely controversial or politically sensitive stories. Her entire career, all of the contacts she's built up, her life's work would all be jeopardized if she stepped out of line or offended someone important.

I prefer good correspondents who come to Japan for a year or two, have nothing to lose, step on a few toes, tell it like it is, and then move to Russia or wherever their next assignment takes them.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

I have read this piece four times now and I still can't make out what it is supposed to be saying.

On one hand it reads like the usual oyaji garbage (Japan is pure unlike that mess England. Learn Japanese and you will suddenly cease criticising the place).

But on the other hand there could just be some kind of point in there but for the life of me I am struggling to find it.

Maybe if he had said it in Japanese I would understand it and we could all appreciate the unique four seasons together.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

M3M3M3

How can a foreign journalist "tell it like it is," as you put it, if they don't speak the language? By speaking Japanese, a foreign correspondent can keep his/her finger on the pulse of what's going on in society. Just being able to read Japanese magazines, watch TV variety and news programs and so on can give any foreigner an insight into Japanese society.

If a correspondent doesn't speak Japanese, then they simply do as I said above. They rely on their Japanese research assistants or they use local English news media as source material. I can't count the number of times that I have seen foreign correspondents cover the same topics that already appeared in local English media which have the advantage of having bilingual Japanese reporters.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

According to national census figures, UK-born Caucasians now account for just 44.9% of the entire population.

This is confusing but it refers to the population of London, not of the UK.

Some 80% of London’s current population is comprised of people originating from overseas.

No idea what this is referring to.

Anyway, agree with others that the logic of the columnist is all messed up.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I guess one is more likely to learn a language of a country they like.

-3 ( +3 / -6 )

Being fluent in Japanese will certainly allow a reporter to understand the stories he/she is writing about, and will no doubt pick up undercurrents and stuff between the lines... but as a means to writing less critical articles? I don't think so, matey.

Also no idea where the 80% figure comes from: the 44.9% white British in London does appear correct according to Wiki.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

In my experienced, the people most negative about Japan don't speak Japanese, and the people most realistic about Japan do speak Japanese. There are exceptions to this of course, but they are the exceptions. So I can understand the point he is getting at.

-11 ( +4 / -15 )

Sankei Shimbun? 'nuff said.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

The 80% number probably comes from Dubai, which tops an informal list of 12 cities with the highest foreign-born population.

Next highest on the list are Luxembourg City at 66%, Santa Ana (CA, USA) at 53%, and Daly City and Toronto at 52%. Geneva and Auckland are 11th and 12th at 39%, and London isn't on the list.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foreign_born#Cities_with_largest_foreign_born_populations

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I think this Mr. Okabe is mixing 2 problems : the necessity to get a Visa for a foreign correspondent in UK is not fair as any Foreign accredited correspondent should be able to settle in a country without the condition of the language for the freedom of journalism. That this person can speak the local language is his problem if he can find a way to investigate in the country through other means ( translater etc.). Of course, it could be an asset if he can be fluent in the language. The suggestion of Mr. Okabe re. Japanese language and understanding of the local situation is not relevant as well Sometimes it is better to have some kind of distance with the subject. On my side, the more fluent I get about Japanese, the more I feel upset about the crap I discover...

4 ( +4 / -0 )

@Brainiac

How can a foreign journalist "tell it like it is," as you put it, if they don't speak the language?

I understerstand what you're saying, but it's the same reason that respected historians write about ancient Mesopotamia without ever being able to read or write cuneiform. It all depends on how you see the role of the journalist. Is a journalist an expert investigator who is supposed to generate their own stories, go out and personally interview people and trawl through written sources themselves? Or are they actually just a generalist who's real skill lies in distilling what people in Japan are talking about, deciding how that fits into a larger theme and then relaying that back to their readers in a way that is relevant, intresting and entertaining? A journalist is not some sort of diplomat or public servant. In either case, I don't see how the use of a research assistant or translator makes them any less of a journalist.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

One certainly doesn't need to speak Japanese to understand the present situation in Japan. That said…I am not aware of any Japanese language schools in the whole of the Shonan area. (where I live…other than the utterly useless volunteer classes once a week at the local community center) Not one!!

It's as if they want this language to remain a closely guarded secret. lol

My Japanese would be a whole lot better if I had a school to attend. (cash in pocket…waiting)

Guess I'll have to continue getting by with my mish-mash of "plain/polite" gaijin Japanese.

*sigh

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Risible attitude and statements. While speaking the language certainly facilitate the understanding of the culture of a country like Japan, I see little point in seeking a connection with the Journalist job and particularly with a visa. Many bloggers not even resident in a country have more impact and appeal than famous journalists that are indeed famous mainly for the diffusion of the paper the write in rather than for their acumen or ability to go finding the news. Correspondents, in turn, while being journalists, not necessarily are the main opinion leading factor: they often answer to press needs to feed something to the public. Speaking or not Japanese, writing intentionally bad article and critics is very easy. And very frequently done. I have to confess that much of the surprise Okabe shows is quite displacing and makes me really doubt of him as journalist, meaning he has not been looking around very much and very in depth for many years while working...

3 ( +3 / -0 )

After World War II, Britons, disdaining physical labor, accepted large numbers of immigrants from former colonies in Asia, Africa and the West Indies, and more recently from the Middle East and Eastern Europe.

Oh, we're lazy are we? Britain was damaged - you know, bombed and hungry. That's what happens when you go through a war where the enemy bombs your cities. I'd have thought a Japanese journalist would have understood that at least. Disdaining physical labour my arse - we needed immigrants to replace the young men who had died all over the world. It may be true these days, but after surviving a war? That's just insulting to those who lived through it.

11 ( +11 / -0 )

Is no one else bothered by him starting off with '44.9% white' talking about immigration 70 years ago, totally failing to understand that non-whites also speak English? Looking up the 2011 census, 79.9% of Londoners are native speakers of English, and only .6% speak 'little to no' English.

And what in the world does his little story about immigration and demographics have to do with his conclusion? I am guessing he only writes in Japanese, and we'd find a lot of his own cultural bias and criticism EVEN though he passed an English test.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

I'm a little concerned by the figures presented, if 80% of Londons population is foreign born, how can 45% be 'White British'?

Perhaps if Okabe's English was better he'd have been able to read the statistics properly. The last census showed 37% of London residents were non-UK born. Only 24 per cent of these were non-UK nationals. The 80 per cent figure is the percentage of people who consider themselves "white British". His grasp of statistics is shocking.

The census data is probably confusing to him. In census returns, people are required to describe their own ethnicity, and a lot of people who are British and look "white" don't self-identify as "white British"; for example, Irish people, travellers, Romani, mixed-heritage people, etc. He probably also fails to grasp that non-Caucasian people can be regarded as wholly British.

Then again, perhaps he just did his own survey and just counted the number of people in bowler hats, or something, or the number of people who said "cor blimey guv'nor" when he wished them good morning.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

Presumably, all international journalism in Japan will then only be written by reporters who are fluent in the language of the country being discussed? That will be good for the language schools, I suppose, or maybe it will cut down on the Latvian news reports.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

So, I looked up and read his article in Japanese. I didn't make me dislike his poor quality writing any less.

But, thinking 'Like a Japanese', I guess 現在ロンドンの人口の8割は海外から来た人で占められ means solely the historic background of the population is 80% of non-British origin, he didn't say they are first generation immigrants. Some of those are white. But still, he falsely implies that color and language ability are connected.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

That will only create differences among his own comrades (reporters). I think reporters are ought to defend their fellow neighbors in the profession, but what he just propose is something contrary to that.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Presumably, all international journalism in Japan will then only be written by reporters who are fluent in the language of the country being discussed?

THIS!!!! I'd give you 100 thumbs up if I could.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Some 80% of London’s current population, Okabe writes, is comprised of people originating from overseas. According to national census figures, UK-born Caucasians now account for just 44.9% of the entire population.

What does that even mean? I can't believe Okabe has really lived in the UK, otherwise he'd know that Caucasian is a meaningless term to use. Are Poles and Lithuanians "Caucasians"? There are over 700,000 Polish people in the UK, and most arrived in the last 10 years. But they look more "Caucasian" than me. At least they're blonder and bluer eyed.

And so what? Does this have anything to do with journalists writing comments critical of Japan? The lack of logic from someone who seems to consider himself a journalist is scary. Just embarressing

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Isn't Sankei a conservative xenophobic right wing media outlet? Nuf said.

12 ( +12 / -0 )

different countries, different situation.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

To the Sankei, being an "anti-Japanese" journalist means taking a stance that disagrees with the "Japan didn't do anything wrong and its wartime leaders were subjected to victors' justice" editorial positions taken by the Sankei Shimbun on such iconic issues as the comfort women, Rape of Nanking, etc.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

You can get more accurate statistics from Wikipedia. I'd be very wary about believing anything from this so-called 'journalist'. Perhaps he thought London was still mostly inhabited by white gentlemen in bowler hats. My advice is, if you don't like the multi-culturalism in London, you can always come back to Japan. He's damn lucky he's in a country where human rights (regardless of race or sexuality) are respected. I bet he didn't have to submit to a facial scan and fingerprint checks when he arrived at Heathrow.

And he's damn lucky that, as a 'reporter' in the UK, he doesn't have to ask the government what sort of questions he's allowed to ask. And please don't report anything about the Royal family before you do the same about your own imperial family. He doesn't know how lucky he is.

As for learning the language in Japan, well there's a famous saying:

When I first came to Japan, I didn't watch TV because I didn't understand the language.

Now I don't watch TV because I DO understand the language.

11 ( +12 / -1 )

Sakai racism, as you might expect. I actually experienced pleasure when one theirs got into trouble for slander in South Kotea. Finally these right wing scummies were getting back their own medicine. Just try to restrict the human rights of foreign jounalists and see what happens.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

I humbly suggest further evaluation and assessment is undertaken by Sankei Shimbun senior editorial team into columnist Nobiru Okabe ability to produce clear, concise, objective and above all factual reporting. If Nobiru Okabe 'style' is to ape Hunter S Thompson brand of Gonzo journalism, the end result is shoddy and lackadaisical.

“Prior to my assignment, while a member of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan, I felt it was scandalous that foreign correspondents who could not speak Japanese, regularly filed stories that demonstrated an ‘anti-Japanese’ bias. It might be that if foreign correspondents were required, as a condition for issuance of their visa, to demonstrate proficiency in the Japanese language, this might lead to a better understanding of Japan.”

A festered mindset hobbled and subsequently pickled whilst propping up the Bar at the FCCJ, Nobiru Okabe, viewpoint reflects a distinct political one-sidedness, lacking a neutral viewpoint. Commentators have rightfully highlighted an assortment of embarrassing inconsistencies.

As a matter of interest.......

Level test intermediate B1....

http://www.englishtag.com/tests/level_test_intermediate_B1.asp

3 ( +3 / -0 )

"Some 80% of London’s current population, Okabe writes, is comprised of people originating from overseas. According to national census figures, UK-born Caucasians now account for just 44.9% of the entire population." Is my math really that bad? Isn't 100-44.9=55.1? Where does 80% come from???

2 ( +3 / -1 )

I agree with him that correspondents SHOULD know the language of the country they are working in because then it removes one layer of filtering (i.e. the translator) the reporter is subject to. As for going so far as to say the correspondent MUST know the language... I don't agree.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

But, thinking 'Like a Japanese', I guess 現在ロンドンの人口の8割は海外から来た人で占められ means solely the historic background of the population is 80% of non-British origin, he didn't say they are first generation immigrants. Some of those are white. But still, he falsely implies that color and language ability are connected.

His figures are just plain wrong. At the last census, 45 per cent of Londoners self-identified as "white British". Add in the significant numbers who will have identified as Irish, traveller, Romani, mixed-heritage and so on, and you acutally have far more than 45 per cent with roots in the UK.

And what does Okabe mean by "外国から来た"? If my mother were Polish-Jewish and my father was Scottish, and I was born in Glasgow but living in London, I could identify as Jewish, white British, Scottish, or mixed-heritage. But would Okabe class me as "from a foreign country" on account of my mother - as my half-Japanese son tends to be classed here? Okabe has missed out on these subtleties. Perhaps if he had better English he might have actually been able to understand the complex nature of ethnic identity in Britain. But he hasn't grasped them at all.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Ridiculous proposal. Not even Japanese reporters doing overseas work for news programs or specials speak English at a level higher than junior high school level or so.

If we apply the same logic to smaller countries, the number of people capable of translating between x language and Japanese is, and interested in journalism is exceptionally small.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

I agree with Okabe, foreign journalists based in Japain should have to speak Japainese, or have their permit revoked!

Japainese journalists in the UK must speak English.

What's good for the goose, is good for the gander.

-5 ( +1 / -6 )

Flawed Premise No. 2:

Some of Japan's best analysts don't speak much Japanese, if at all.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

"Some of Japan's best analysts don't speak much Japanese, if at all."

Indeed. Not only do they not speak much if any Japanese, they certainly cannot read Japanese and they do not know much if anything about Japan. Some may well never have been in Japan. That's why they're so good. They do not let knowledge or facts get in the way of what they write.

I hope to start a second career specializing in the Russian Republic. I do not speak or read Russian. I've only been in the country once when my Air France flight made a brief stop in Moscow. I think that fully qualifies me to report on the Russian Republic.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

Simple common sense and sound judgement dictates that if a person wishes to obtain employment in a foreign country, a basic requirement along with qualifications accredited to the role, is the ability to communicate effectively.

What irritates, is Nobiru Okabe notion linking animosity towards J government's policies, and disdain for Japanese culture with the ability to learn and speak the language.

In the case of foreign journalists subjective objectivity sudden transformation on incorporating language requirements within visa process. Clearly this action will not achieve the desired effect.

A scribbling hack journalist will always resort to type. If Nobiru Okabe feels aggrieved, vigorously challenge and debate the subject, call them out.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Requiring that journalists speak Japanese is entirely reasonable, and suggesting that those that do not will be likely to misrepresent Japan is poke your eye out obvious.

Nevertheless there may be even more Japanophobics among Japanophonic journalists from Asian neighbours, for instance. I wonder what proportion of the anti-Japanese comments here were written by people who are not conversant in Japanese and vice versa. I read Japanese. Chalk up one for the Okabe hypothesis.

-3 ( +3 / -6 )

I agree with Okabe, foreign journalists based in Japain should have to speak Japainese, or have their permit revoked! Japainese journalists in the UK must speak English. What's good for the goose, is good for the gander.

Consider what you wrote here a moment and think too as well about how many things you would NOT know about Japan if this was the law here. Issues related to Tohoku, Fukushima, the internal refugee problems, Taiji, and a host of others would still, for the most part, be unknown or under-reported throughout the world.

Not knowing the language can be a hindrance for some, but good journalists, I believe, overcome these barriers by keeping an open mind and building strong relationships within the communities they work in.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

Some 80% of London’s current population, Okabe writes, is comprised of people originating from overseas. According to national census figures, UK-born Caucasians now account for just 44.9% of the entire population.

According to the 2011 census, 37% of the London population was born abroad, not 80%.

According to the same 2011 census, 80% of the UK population was white British.

Okabe's story story starts with nonsense - why should we believe anything else!?

4 ( +5 / -1 )

80% of London's population are compromised of overseas people. Based on what? Why doesn't he look into the history a little more. He seems to want to scaremonger people into thinking it is a sudden explosion of foreigners. Looking Into the history after WW2 and how the UK started programs to get foreigners to go and work in the UK to redevelop industries that were destroyed. Okabe fits into the dailymail mould.

I think if many foreigners living in Japan grasped the language at a high level, which many do already, expect even harsher critics. There's nothing to "understand" better if its in a different language if the situation is the same, regardless of language. I generally agree it is good to have a grasp of any foreign language when living abroad, but don't treat foreigners as morons who don't understand the inner workings of whichever country the reside in.

The amount of times I have talked to young adults about certain issues regard Japan, they are completely oblivious to even care what their government is doing. If it's not cool or cute why bother.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Basically this 'journalist' has had his nose put out of joint, because he had to do an English test .... "How dare they question my English ability", then writes a snotty article about the UK being full of foreigners (who got into the country easier than him, harrumph!)

I think he's suff from UK syndrome, probably expected it takes be a giant Beatles theme park with tea rooms on every corner.

He comes across as bitter, unprofessional, and sounds like he's having a winge, just like that Osaka 'comedian' woman who moaned about France, or Gackt.

3 ( +6 / -3 )

Okabe should be careful what he wishes for. Journalists who came already fluent in Japanese would by likely to have higher degrees in Japanology, and they would be absolutely on the ball sniffing out corruption and incompetence. They would not give the censored "Isn't Japan lovely" view he seems so much to want.

80 per cent in the census, by the way, was the number of people in the whole of the UK who identified as white British in the census. Sice British people, in my experience, tend to talk up any exotic ancestry, not wanting to feel that they are dull old Anglo Saxons, I would guess that the 80 per cent is an underestimate.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

JeffLeeDEC. 15, 2015 - 02:04PM JST

Some of Japan's harshest critics are fluent Japanese speakers.

True. At the same time, some of the noisiest criticism against Japan comes from those who cannot speak Japanese.

If a correspondent cannot speak the local language, he/she cannot report from primary sources. He/she can report only from what was already reported in English. That was so evident in Fukushima Accident. Everything was reported in Japanese and the foreign correspondents started shouting "Japanese government did not report a thing." They should have learned Japanese.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

CH3CHO

The complaint about Fukushima was not that the government "did not report a thing", but that there was a lot of disinformation and obfuscation from the government and government-dominated news agencies at the time. I was in Britain at the time, and Japanese family members were asking me for information because they thought the BBC was more reliable. I have also found information in BBC documentaries on Fukushima and the tsunami - researched by fluent Japanese speakers - which is not commonly known in Japan. The BBC employs researchers who speak foreign languages fluently. They don't cut corners.

In fact, one reason that so many foreign residents in Japan were being urged to go home after the tsunami by relatives abroad was because the news reporting and pictures abroad were much, much more graphic than what was broadcast in Japan.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I think that it is a takes pretty weird (Heinrich, Heine, Norenzayan, 2010) or Western kind of arrogance (Heine, Lehman, Markus, Kitayama, 1999) to come to a country as a journalist and not learn the language. Such 'journalists' would be almost bound to carp on about Japanese failings, as do the majority of the posters to these forums, who may or may not be Japanophone.

-6 ( +1 / -7 )

PlinytheelderDEC. 16, 2015 - 10:41AM JST

because they thought the BBC was more reliable.

The source material that BBC used during Fukushima Accident came from something Japanese Government released or from something BBC created from nothing. All the government briefing was broadcast live on Japanese TV. The data were available on internet. Why could BBC more reliable than directly taking information from the original source? We knew all the original source of BBC.

Which TV station recorded and broadcast the explosion of the reactors? NHK or BBC?

They don't cut corners.

They did. Japanese broadcasters reported the accident 24 hours a day. How many hours did BBC appropriate for Fukushima?

It is way too naive to believe BBC had any advantage over Japanese media. During the Fukushima Accident, all I heard from English media were either something already reported in Japanese media hours ago, or some speculations that were proven wrong later.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

Japan should follow the UK's lead. At the very least we'll see a decrease in stories about vending machines and robots...

0 ( +1 / -1 )

In my experienced, the people most negative about Japan don't speak Japanese, and the people most realistic about Japan do speak Japanese. There are exceptions to this of course, but they are the exceptions. So I can understand the point he is getting at.

Heh, I know this comment was going to rile some people up. It's at -12 so far, not as many as I expected to be honest.

Yet not even one person who thumbed it down actually addressed it in the comments. That says something.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Timtak, if your getting most of your news/info about Japan from Japanese sources you are missing out on a LOT of info on Japan, plain & simple.

This guy Okabe is clearly rather un-international even though he seems to understand English. He is like the VAST MAJORITY of Japanese, they simply CANNOT take constructive criticism of the people & country of Japan!

Hell I freely admit( & I bet 99% of posters on JT are the same) I self censor many of my views on things Japan when speaking to Japanese, simply because you CANNOT have conversations etc with most Japanese where your opinion is different, they simply cant take it & it WILL affect any & every relationship you will have with spouses, colleagues & the Japanese men/women on the streets etc

So if a foreign journalist wanted a LONG time gig as a journalist in Japan they would have NO CHOICE but to only kiss butt, if they said it like it is they would be outta work unless employed from outside Japan for the long term, in that sense learning Japanese would not be a good investment.

I seriously doubt many if any JTers that live here long term just let their points of view rip day in day out. The locals could never handle it

4 ( +4 / -0 )

@GW If I may be allowed to borrow something If your getting most of your news/info about Japan from English sources you are missing out on a LOT of info on Japan, plain & simple.

Like most of the commenters here, I would say on the contrary it is you who simply CANNOT take constructive criticism of their people & country (or fellow anglophones)!

I seriously doubt many if any JTers that live here long term just let their points of view rip day in day out because most of their comments are so negative, partly because they don't understand Japanese.

If ones comments of another culture are predominantly negative then (since Japanese culture is clearly not inferior) it should demonstrate a lack of understanding, to anyone with a little humility. This lack of understanding is called Orientalism (Said, 1977) and explained by social identity theory (Brewer, 1991).

Any journalist who does not learn the language of the country that they are reporting is not doing their job.

-6 ( +1 / -7 )

Sorry Timtak, I have to disagree big time with your assessment, but I have zero negative feelings or vibes for/from you, WE can disagree & I would still be fine having this and other conversations about the many many things I like & think are great about Japan.

However I stand by my opinion that you CANNOT have these kinds of discussions with most Japanese & hope to maintain friendships etc, heck my wife even gets made when I AGREE with her on stuff about Japan that she thinks are bad.....

Sure JT puts out these articles knowing many with post their views, but certainly many articles many views are also positive, its not just negatives

I have been here a couple decades now, my gift of the gab is pretty good otherwise I couldn't have been self employed for so long, my reading, I freely admit I should have worked more on that in my early days but I have a pretty good idea of the good, bad & ugly in Japan, which every country has.

As a Canuck feel perfectly free to point out what you think is wrong/bad there, heck don't be surprised if I agree with you!

Any journalist who does not learn the language of the country that they are reporting is not doing their job

I disagree with the above, by that line of think Japan had pretty much just STOP reporting about the world around Japan, NOT a good idea in my opinion

2 ( +2 / -0 )

CH3CHO

The source material that BBC used during Fukushima Accident came from something Japanese Government released or from something BBC created from nothing. All the government briefing was broadcast live on Japanese TV. The data were available on internet. Why could BBC more reliable than directly taking information from the original source? We knew all the original source of BBC.

They were also getting information from independent sources. Governments are not always to be trusted in times of crisis to give accurate information. Various experts were issuing information at the time, including independent nuclear investigation bodies etc.

Government briefings do not always contain the truth,mthe whole truth, and nothing but the truth. And journalists are not required to take what governments say at face value.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

PlinytheelderDEC. 16, 2015 - 03:30PM JST

They were also getting information from independent sources.

Right. But what exactly were the "independent sources"? Were they in the Fukushima Diichi NPP site? If they had been there, they would have been a valuable independent sources. But they were not. Those "independent sources" were just speculating based on nothing.

journalists are not required to take what governments say at face value.

No, they are not. But that does not give any advantage to the correspondents who cannot understand the language.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

@ GW

There is research on the extent to which Japanese and Canadians enhance ingroups (engage in vicarious pride on behalf of) which finds that it is Canadians who enhance ingroup members more. See table 1 on page 1272 (@ link below) which shows the ranking given as a percentage (lower = higher in the ranking) given to family members by Japanese, Asian Canadians and Caucasian Canadians. Concentrating on "Interdependent traits" (cooperative, loyal, considerate, hard-working, dependable) the percentage of other people superior to a than a family member are 30.6%, 20.4 and 18.5% respectively. In other words Japanese think that only 30% of other mothers are more considerate than their own mother, but Canadians think that this only 18.5% of mums are more considerate than their own.

On the other hand however, it can seem that Japanese have a lot of group pride when compared to individual pride since (from the same table) Japanese rather themselves as almost average at 43.9% or about 6% above average, whereas Canadians bloat their own egos at 23.7% almost as much as they do their family members.

Heine, S. J., & Lehman, D. R. (1997). The cultural construction of self-enhancement: an examination of group-serving biases. Journal of personality and social psychology, 72(6), 1268. http://www2.psych.ubc.ca/~heine/docs/1997gsb.pdf

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

Login to leave a comment

Facebook users

Use your Facebook account to login or register with JapanToday. By doing so, you will also receive an email inviting you to receive our news alerts.

Facebook Connect

Login with your JapanToday account

User registration

Articles, Offers & Useful Resources

A mix of what's trending on our other sites