National / Media | Japan Pulse

Donald Trump's visit dominates Japan's conversation online — until he leaves

by Patrick St. Michel

Contributing Writer

Japanese netizens spent the days following U.S. President Donald Trump’s first visit to Japan trying to figure out who came out of the trip looking the best. A week later, a consensus was seemingly reached.

Pikotaro gets the MVP!” one 2chan poster wrote on Nov. 8, a sentiment that echoed across the internet and beyond. The brains behind last year’s “PPAP” song appeared at the state dinner held for Trump, a decision initially generating derision from all sides. Yet as reports from the event came out, it became clear the cheetah-print fanatic transformed a snoozer of political networking into something stupidly fun, with one Foreign Ministry employee telling the Sankei Shimbun they’d never seen a state dinner like that before. The web ate it up.

It’s a fitting snapshot of how Japanese users online tended to view Trump’s visit to Tokyo as a whole. While a fair amount of users on social media sites took sides during his two-day stop in the capital, the majority of people treated it as a joke, creating memes and approaching every detail with detached interest. It dominated online conversation — until Trump went to his next destination, wherein netizens shifted discussion to the Zama serial killer.

During Trump’s visit, however, all eyes were on his blossoming friendship with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The moments online users focused on mirrored the same ones Western observers obsessed over — Trump and Abe eating hamburgers, playing golf and the pair feeding carp together, with the U.S. leader dumping all of his pellets into the water at once.

Users on both sides of the world created countless memes riffing on this — the Japanese memes leaned more toward anime, although Turkish chef Salt Bae popped up across the board — and debating whether it was fair to ridicule Trump’s feeding method when Abe had done the same thing first. Yet for Western folks online, every little thing Trump does is a flash point — the koi feeding, for example, spurred many in America to denounce the president’s manners, while others transformed into pond-scale Jacques Cousteau to explain just how damaging Trump’s actions were to fish. Japanese users joked that such reactions must be “American style” and moved on.

Everything Trump does forces Twitter users in America to react, either to condemn the president’s latest actions or defend him to an almost comical degree. Imagine if Pikotaro was an American viral star who had met the U.S. leader: One half of the internet would call him a monster for meeting Trump (which many Americans actually did do following the dinner), while the other half would go out and buy 50 copies of “PPAP” if only to stick it to liberals. In Japan, however, online users predominantly viewed the trip as peculiar — almost reflecting how they viewed the fact that Trump was elected president in the first place. Which isn’t to say all social media users remained apolitical. One of the big takeaways from the visit was that Trump and Abe now seem pretty chummy — which means 2chan, a message board like 4chan in the U.S. that leans heavy to the right, defends Trump as being a proxy for Abe. Whenever someone tweeted something negative about Trump, supporters would call them “stupid” and tell them to move on.

At most, these 2chan types chastised news shows for being “anti-Abe,” focusing too much on the carp feeding episode. Critics of the prime minister, meanwhile, reveled in footage of him falling down a sand trap while playing golf, making it the top trending video following Trump’s visit. (The best jibe, though, goes to Twitter user @huraiburaijin, who criticized Abe for not leaving the bunker in the condition another golfer would expect to find it — a breach of golf etiquette).

Those were minority reactions, though. Most simply observed and made jokey posts about the trip. Trump came, dominated a news cycle, left and Japan moved on. The tone was different when he arrived at his next destination — South Korea, where the government served shrimp from the contested Liancourt Rocks and brought out a former “comfort woman” to meet the president. Those moves enraged Twitter users far more than anything that happened while Trump was in Japan and offer a reminder that netizens in Japan have their own issues to blow a gasket over — they certainly don’t need Trump for that.