5 epic fails and controversies involving Japan

Every country in the world has it’s heights and lows, and gets involved in scandals on international level, yet some always get an especially bad publicity after such events. A prime example is Japan which has such a positive image among general public that even the smallest of mishaps entice a tsunami of negative press.

Let’s look at some of the Japan’s biggest blunders and how they were perceived across the world:

2009–2010 Toyota recalls

2009–2010 Toyota recalls

While not the biggest in history, Toyota’s vehicle recall of it’s best selling car, Camry, and six other 2004–2010 models because of an unsecured floor mat is by far the most closely watched of all time; according to a Rasmussen poll released on February 8, 2010, 72% of Americans have followed the Toyota news stories “somewhat closely” including 31% who are following them “very closely”. Combined with the subsequent recall of 2.3 million vehicles for sticky accelerator pedals (bringing the total to over 8.5 million recalls) in January 2010, as well as the ongoing financial crisis, these events were a major blow for world’s best-selling automaker and could have long-lasting economic consequences.

Essay on Japanese colonialism

Tamogami's essay on Japanese colonialism

Of the many Japanese controversial post-WWII remarks, Toshio Tamogami’s apology for Japanese colonialism and militarism is probably the best remembred. On October 21, 2008 Tamogami, then chief of staff of Japan’s Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF), published Was Japan an Aggressor Nation?, an essay in which he argues that “it is a false accusation to say [Japan] was an aggressor nation” during World War II, proclaims that Japan brought prosperity to occupied China, Taiwan and Korea, and criticizes the war crimes trials which followed the war. Soon after the publication, Tamogami was removed from his post and ordered to retire.

Whaling & tuna fishing

Whaling & tuna fishing

Whaling in Japan may have begun as early as the 12th century and the country was heavily involved in commercial whaling until the International Whaling Commission moratorium on commercial whaling in 1986. Japan isn’t officially involved in commercial whaling, meat from whales hunted by the Institute of Cetacean Research for scientific research is sold in shops and restaurant. While this is allowed under IWC rules, many nations, scientists and environmental organizations oppose the Japanese research program.

Similarly controversial is Japan’s consumption of bluefin tuna, three-quarters of which are consumed by Japan. While the export ban on Atlantic bluefin tuna proposed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Qatar earlier this year failed to pass, Japanese sushi chefs and consumers continue to be constantly criticized by international media. What is ironic, however, is that the issue is often used to justify commercial whaling, which is said to be necessary for preserving global tuna stock.

Yasukuni Shrine controversy

Yasukuni Shrine controversy

Yasukuni Jinja is a Shinto shrine to house the souls of the dead who served the Emperor of Japan during wars from 1867–1951. Despite the fact that the activity is strictly a religions matter, not only the shrine, but also the Japanese Government have been criticized by China, Korea and Taiwan due to the enshrinement of 1,068 International Military Tribunal for the Far East (IMTFE) war criminals whose evil acts are believed to have been absolved upon enshrinement. The controversy surrounding the shrine, which lasts since 1985, was recently revived due to visits to the shrine by Japanese Diet cabinet members, and especially the former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi who, despite numerous protests, made annual personal visits from 2001 to 2006.

Oscars nomination of Kurosawa’s Ran

Academy Award nomination of Kurosawa's Ran

Akira Kurosawa is one of the most influential filmmakers of all time; his work inspired a multitude of movies including Sergio Leone’s Dollars Trilogy and George Lucas’ Star Wars and in 1989, Kurosawa was awarded the Academy Award for Lifetime Achievement “for cinematic accomplishments that have inspired, delighted, enriched and entertained worldwide audiences and influenced filmmakers throughout the world”. However, despite all his achievements, the legendary director had major difficulties financing his new creations. For instance, had he not been helped by his most famous admirers George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola, the future of his samurai movie Kagemusha would be uncertain.

Another such difficult enterprise was Ran, Kurosawa’s last epic. Over 10 years in preparation, with a budget of $12 million, it was the most expensive Japanese film ever produced up to that time, and it could never be finished without the support from the Russian born French director Serge Silberman. This time, however, the problems also continued after the film’s production. Firstly, it was completed too late to be entered at Cannes and had its premier at Japan’s first Tokyo International Film Festival. Secondly, Kurosawa skipped the film’s premiere. This angered many in the Japanese film industry and as a result, Ran was not submitted as Japan’s entry for the Best Foreign Language Film category of the Academy Award. Silberman tried to get it nominated as a French co-production but failed.

Thankfully, American director Sidney Lumet helped organize a successful campaign to have Kurosawa nominated as Best Director. To make things even worse, Ran was conspicuously not nominated for Best Picture at the Awards of the Japanese Academy. In part because of these events, Ran was only modestly successful financially, and it’s not until recently that the film which is now regarded as one of Kurosawa’s masterpieces was properly reevaluated.

I hope that you’ve enjoyed my article! If you think that I’ve missed and major controversies involving Japan, feel free to let me know in the comments.

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+Philip Seyfi is a Russian independent strategy consultant and entrepreneur, author of NihongoUp, and co-founder & CEO of EduLift.

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