My little survey

Over the past several days, I have given my students essay topics — explained here — that have asked for their views on US-Japan and Japan-China relations. My prompts weren’t explicitly political; they could address any and all aspects of these relationships, including culture, economics, cuisine, language, and politics.

I’m not going to say that I was especially surprised by what they wrote. To the first question, on US-Japan relations, I got a mix of comments on how Americans eat Japanese food and Japanese eat American food, the ubiquitous presence of American movies, a few discussing about how the US defends Japan from its frightening neighbors, and a couple on US troops in Japan — one that was particularly opposed to Japanese subordination that results from the presence of US troops in Japan, one that was especially supportive (the latter, surprisingly, being written by a student from Yokosuka, home to a large US naval base).

I was a bit more surprised by the responses to the China question, which I read today. I was expecting a lot of discussion about the threat posed by China, but instead I read about how much Japan and China trade with each other and how much Japan has been historically influenced by Chinese culture. There were, of course, a few that discussed the anti-Japanese demonstrations in China in the spring of 2005, but they were on the whole positive about Japan’s relations with its colossal neighbor.

I don’t want to be too idealistic, but I found this (admittedly highly unrepresentative) survey encouraging. This group has only known the Heisei Emperor, they have never known a Japan whose economic success inspired fear around the world, and since around the time they were born Japan has contributed troops to peacekeeping missions around the world. Their Japan will be more globalized and ever more dependent on the outside world. To see that they appreciate Japan’s international relationships and have apparently resisted the tendency to see China as an unmitigated threat gives me hope that Japan might be in good hands.

Now to sort out their Chinese counterparts and we’ll be all set.

(Meanwhile, if anyone reading this has any ideas for essay prompts, I’m all ears.)

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