Staff writer

The depictions of Japan in American newspapers have a dangerous tendency to cater to nationalist sentiments by portraying the country as backward, especially regarding women’s rights, said Hideko Otake, president of the New York-based literary organization Zipangu.

The group, consisting of Japanese professionals living in the U.S., produces a bimonthly publication for Japanese-Americans, and recently released the 280-page bilingual book, “Warawareru Nihonjin (Japanese who are laughed at) — Japan Made in U.S.A.,” which criticizes what Otake claims is unbalanced coverage of Japan as a bizarre, if not amusing, society.

“We talk of globalization, but the press is still surprisingly nation-oriented. It is dangerous when the press caters to and fuels these narrow sentiments among its readers,” Otake said in an interview with The Japan Times.

As the U.S. has shifted away from seeing Japan as an economic threat, a focus on negative images such as backward attitudes regarding women’s rights has succeeded in fueling U.S. feelings of superiority, she said.

The book cites articles in The New York Times on loveless marriages, pornographic comics of women that depict them enjoying being raped, high-pitched voices of elevator girls and Lolita complexes. A disproportionate amount of American media coverage tells similar stories about the oppressed Japanese woman, Otake said.

Between 1991 to 1996, both The New York Times and The Washington Post averaged one article per month featuring Japanese women, she said. Stories like these only offer one-sided versions that strengthen impressions of an incomprehensible Japan that may discourage dialogue and ultimately harm mutual understanding between Japanese and Americans, Otake said.

According to the book, the new images replace those of faceless Japanese businessmen who represented monolithic Japan and its economic might — images of “Japan Inc.” that reached a peak during the 1980s.

Otake wants reporters to focus less on articles aimed at short-term entertainment and more on issues that readers of both nations are grappling with, such as aging populations, and encourage exchange of ideas and solutions.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
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