The trade relationship between Japan and The United States dates back almost 200 years with many fruitless attempts to establish trade before that. The first American explorations began not long after America gained its dependence on Great Britain. However, it was not until 1848 when Captain James Glynn arrived in the port of Nagasaki, that the first successful negotiations by an American with Japan began. Since then, a combination of war, tariff disputes, and unnecessary cultural ignorance has left the two countries in an uneasy trade and business relationship that is not improving in time.
Japan and America: trade
Currently, the United States takes in 22.5% of Japanese exports and supplies 11.9% of its imports. For the past five years, these statistics have been changing dramatically. America, once known as Japan’s top trade and business partner, is losing more and more Japanese trade and business to Asian superpowers, such as China and Korea. (We’re no longer Japan’s top trading partner 1) Japan serves as America’s gateway to the ever-growing Asian economy. When certain Asian superpowers reach a peak in their economic and military capacity, America’s relationship with Japan will serve as the country’s only connection to the dawn of East Asian economic supremacy. Japan now operates as America’s last significant economical correlation with East Asia. Nevertheless, America maybe throwing this crucial relationship away due to cultural ignorance, intolerance, and an unwillingness to learn more about the culture of its once top business and trade partner. “America must learn more about Japanese culture, and society, to secure its future trade and business relationship with Japan. Failure to do so will result in a loss of Japan as a trade and business partner, and destroy America’s only connection with East Asia’s impending economic revolution.”
History of Japanese and American relationship
To understand the complex nature of America’s business and trade relationship with Japan, one must first look at the history of this relationship. From the first planned trade visit by Commander Matthew Perry, leading a fearsome armed squadron of ships in 1853; to the cultural mishaps and confusions that, even today, affect America’s trade relationship with Japan, Japanese/American trade relations are a volatile affair.
Directly following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, the unfair treatment of Japanese-Americans during WWII was hugely damaging. America’s unfair treatment of Japanese-Americans displayed an obvious lack of cultural understanding. Many scholars would support this claim by saying that Japanese-Americans were taken prisoner unfairly as a result of ignorance and racial tension. Japanese-Americans were “misunderstood.” (Beauregard 94) and their internment was just one more traumatic event in the long history of cultural misconceptions and misunderstandings. Most Japanese-Americans tend to view the events of the internment with a fair amount of resent because many contemporary issues for Japanese-Americans still exist as a result. Among them, “intermarriage, career barriers, and cultural assimilation”, are just a few. (Beauregard 94) “While Japan-bashing has become a popular pastime in many sectors of U.S. society…”(Dower 1) The thing that seems to anger Japanese-Americans the most, is that to this day American’s, in general, still have not made a substantial effort to educate themselves about Japanese culture. America’s relationship with Japan is full of misunderstanding and cultural ignorance.
In modern terms, even after years of sophisticated trade and business relations with Japan, American businessmen, it appears, still, find it very hard to assimilate into Japanese culture when they travel there for extended periods. In an attempt to help make this situation better, there have even been books written specifically for American businessmen who find it difficult to function in Japanese society. “One book is called Living in Japan, and deals with Japan’s complicated language and customs. The other is called Setting Up Office in Japan, and deals with how expensive it is to live in Japan.” (Magnier 397) It is not surprising that these guides exist. It is surprising; however, that even with the existence of these books, along with many other resources on Japanese culture, Americans still have trouble assimilating into Japanese culture.
It is perhaps a reflection on American culture itself that many of the things that traveling business people try to do are more of a quick-fix than a true attempt to learn about the culture of Japan. This problem might be more easily remedied if more of an effort to learn about Japanese culture was made before traveling to Japan. Those companies that do business with Japan usually do so regularly, and most employ Japanese workers at their American branches. A healthy business relationship is not possible if an obvious ignorance of Japanese culture exists.
America’s trade policies are also often confusing, and many seemingly unnecessary tariffs and regulations exist. These tariffs are often seen as detrimental to America’s trade relationship with Japan. However, Koichi Kato, Japan’s Prime Minister, said in an interview on the subject, “The U.S. is seeking to change some matters like tariffs, which are already recognized by the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. It is extraordinary that the U.S. is asking Japan to alter something on a bilateral basis that already has been decided in multinational tariff negotiations.” (What to do about America) Japan has also announced that it is suffering economically from certain countries’ trade policies, including those of the U.S. “Japan last week said China, the U.S., and European Union members are among 41 countries whose trade barriers hurt Japanese companies.” (Pacific Shipper 1) America’s trade policies were said to be confusing, and downright unfair. “Tokyo’s complaints against the U.S. were familiar ones: tariffs on hot-rolled steel — begun in 1999 against Japan, Brazil, and Russia and expected to continue for at least five more years — and a U.S. anti-dumping law that the WTO has ruled is illegal.” The Japanese said this about the U.S. and China, “(we)…were accused of the most “unfair” practices, according to, The Associated Press.” (Pacific Shipper 1) These unnecessary barriers and confusing policies, if eliminated, might also go a long way to securing a better trade relationship with Japan.
The key to a better trade
If America can beat China in the battle to make a trade with Japan easier, it would mean a better trade and business relationship with the country. The benefits of doing this are clear. According to the UK Economist, “The US should cooperate with Japan to lower trade balances rather than endanger relations with trade barriers and punitive actions. Possible unrest in Eastern Asia makes the US bases in Japan important to world peace.” (America, Japan, and the bogeyman) America is also suffering economically as a result of the decline in business and trade interactions with Japan. “The American economic growth is showing signs of slowing and the hefty trade imbalance with Japan is becoming more problematic. American politicians are applying pressure on Japan to increase their domestic markets through tax cuts and public spending.”(Elliott 1).
Perhaps the biggest area of dispute in the Japan-America trade relationship of modern times is in one of America’s biggest and most precious overseas markets, the beef and poultry industry. For years Japan has refused to open its borders to the U.S. beef industry simply because the meat, to Japanese’ eyes, is unclean, and ill-prepared. Also, many agreements in place are carelessly overlooked by the American beef industry. “Industry concerns continue that Japan’s government will prolong reopening its market to U.S. beef in the wake of a shipment of veal that failed to meet the specifications of the U.S.-Japanese agreement on beef trade.”(Schuff 1) Many agreements set up with Japan are not being followed correctly by the U.S. beef industry. “Last week, USDA also announced that a Swift & Co. plant in Grand Island, Neb., had been delisted because of a failure to properly document the required age verification on cattle processed for Japan.”(Schuff 1) The simple fact is that, according to research, “…surveys show Japanese consumers (are) afraid to eat American beef…”(Smith 1) Many restaurants, however, are beginning to serve U.S. beef in their products. They are appealing, perhaps, to a part of the Japanese population who are delighted that American beef, despite rumors of ECOLI, is available in Japan.. “… the event was massively covered by Japanese television, reporting that consumers were not only snapping up U.S. beef but, in interviews, saying, “U.S. beef is delicious,” and, “I’m happy that U.S. beef is back.” He said even TV-Asahi, which has been decidedly negative to U.S. beef, reported that it was the most popular.” (Smith 2) As long as the U.S. can maintain a certain standard then the beef trade relationship will continue to grow between the U.S. and Japan. Shortly after this article was published, Japan’s borders were yet again closed to any importing of American meat. ECOLI was found in a large shipment of American beef. As a result, America and Japan’s relationship has been damaged yet again.
Bill Murray’s recent movie “Lost in Translation” showed the humor behind the cultural differences that many Americans find hard to deal with in Japan. Its title could also be used to describe the way that Japanese culture is often misrepresented and presented in the West. By the time it is translated into English and brought over to the U.S., in the form of comic books and movies, Japanese culture can hold entirely new meanings. Sadly the Pokemon craze that swept the nation in the late ’90s, served as the first introduction to Japanese culture for many Americans. (Raugust 1) During this time, other Japanese animations also became popular because of their similarity to Pokemon. However, Pokemon is not an accurate representation of Japanese culture.
Because of a lack of other examples of Japanese culture, many Americans have nothing else to base their view of this ancient and rich culture on. If true examples of Japanese culture were received with as much gusto as Pokemon, much of America’s ignorance of Japanese culture could be overcome. (Raugust 1) Many of the more modern Japanese comics and animations contain errors that further contribute to the misrepresentation of Japanese culture in America. A Japanese comic, or manga, called “Buddha,” was recently released in English, in America, and was full of mistakes and inaccurate bowdlerization. The American translators had problems with parts of the story that seemed impossible to accurately transpose into English. As a result, they ended up making parts of the story up. (Rosen 1) Much of the Japanese culture that gets lost in translation contains the most valuable lessons that Japan can offer. If more of these parts of Japanese culture could be grasped, it could only strengthen the relationship between America and Japan.
Culture of Japan and America
There is, however, a huge amount of cultural exchange that does go on between the youth cultures of Japan and America. Recently a Manga was written that offers a “fascinating glimpse at the mutual influence and exchange between black American urban style, and Japanese youth culture.”(Reid 1) This manga isn’t like a normal manga, because it was published in a fashion magazine. The manga was modified a great deal when it was translated into English. “It’s a very violent book so it’s for older readers.”(Reid 2) The author has this to say about the censorship of this manga. “The American edition of the manga is marked by an ironic censorship—certain scenes in the book are blacked out.”(Reid 2). The author of the comic book says that he was greatly influenced by “Hip-Hop” culture when he wrote this Manga. This is extremely interesting because it shows just how influential smaller parts of American culture are on Japanese culture. The violence in this Manga was influenced by American culture. This is not good for America’s reputation in Japan. Many Japanese feel that there is too much violence in America. Yoshi Hattori was a Japanese foreign exchange student living in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. “Yoshi Hattori was fatally shot by a gun-wielding homeowner.”(Beauregard 1) This incident was especially distressing to the Japanese public because all charges against the shooter were dropped. “A jury trial resulted in an innocent verdict, while a subsequent civil-action suit awarded damages to Hattori’s grief-stricken parents.” Japan oftentimes views America as ruthless and dangerous. The Hattori incident was heavily reported in Japan, and there was an extremely negative response made towards America as a result. “In Japan too, where recent opinion polls show a decline in respect for American capabilities and accomplishments…”(Dower 1) America must become more aware of the effects that events like these have on its already delicate relationship with Japan.
In 1994 Takakazu Kuriyama, Japanese ambassador to the U.S. gave a speech that outlined in detail, the fragile state of the U.S. – Japan relationship. “If the United States and Japan work together, then practically every other problem in the world will get better or, at least, become much easier to handle. But if our relationship deteriorates, then every one of these problems will get worse or become that much harder, even impossible, to solve.” (U.S. and Japan trade relations 1) This speech conveyed the feelings that Japan has about the trade and business relationship that exists between itself and America. The ambassador explained that Japan is willing to change, and do whatever it takes to help trade and business prosper between the two countries. The only thing left is for America to make an effort to learn more about Japanese culture in general. “I am convinced, however, that if we can learn about each other, if we attempt to understand each other, then we will begin to trust each other. And if we trust, the future will not be as complex and confusing.”
U.S. and Japan trade relations 1
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