Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

"Soft Power" and Murakami Haruki
KITAMURA Fumio / Journalist

April 14, 2009
"Soft Power" is currently attracting growing attention in Japan. There is vigorous discussion in the academic world and mass media on the merits of Soft Power as an effective tool for enhancing Japan's profile in the international community.

Why Soft Power, and why now? The major reason lies in the policy errors made by the previous U.S. administration of President George Bush. Brandishing a simplistic world view of a "war between good and evil," Bush plunged forward with policies biased towards "Hard Power," such as military force. As a result, the United States has found itself mesmerized by a stupor of its own making. The new administration of President Barack Obama has already declared a clear break from the negative legacy of the previous administration. "Too often in the recent past, our government has acted reflexively before considering available facts and evidence, or hearing the perspectives of others. But President Obama and I are committed to a foreign policy that is neither impulsive nor ideological," said Secretary of State Hilary Clinton in early February during a press conference ahead of her historic trip to Asia.

Despite its misgivings over the unilateral actions of the Bush administration, Japan was a major supporter of Bush's War against Iraq, second only to the United Kingdom among the G8 countries. To explain its behavior, the Japanese government emphasized the "common values" shared by Japan and the United States. To other countries it must have seemed as though the two countries shared a "common code of action." The birth of the Obama administration signaled the start of a changing social climate, and Japan is pressed to explore a new stance with which to face the international community. This need has given way to the current debate on Soft Power.

Soft Power is difficult to define. Transmitting the appeals of a country's unique culture and tradition increases the feeling of intimacy and sympathy in another country. Non-force elements that exert such influence are collectively being referred to as Soft Power. Japan has been generating a multitude of excellent hardware and content in this genre. The number of Japanese manga enthusiasts has grown dramatically among the younger generation in Asia, Europe and the United States, and people are no longer surprised to see a Japanese anime film win an Academy Award. Japan is also at the cutting edge in the area of computer game software.

Naturally, "Pop Power" such as manga and games figure prominently in the mainstream of Japan's national debate on Soft Power. However, is it wise to overestimate the effects of this so-called "Cool Japan" image? Apparently, Pop Power appeals to young people as materials that soothe the sense of alienation they feel in today's complex world. Apart from anime movies that are publicly viewed in theaters or on TV, the majority of contents made in Japan is being consumed in limited private confines. Meanwhile, Japan on the part of the exporting side pays little attention to the content from the viewpoint of offering a response to the conflicts and divisions taking place around the world. As long as we remain lacking in imagination for sharing pain with others, we will be unable to raise the presence of Japan and the Japanese in the international community.

This is all the more reason why I was greatly encouraged by a speech given this year in Jerusalem by writer Murakami Haruki. A modern Japanese writer whose works are among the most widely read abroad, Murakami received the Jerusalem Award, the most prestigious literary prize in Israel. Coming in the immediate wake of Israel's attacks on Gaza, his speech at the awarding ceremony on February 15 attracted special attention. "Between a high, solid wall and an egg that breaks against it, I will always stand on the side of the egg," Murakami said. "Yes, no matter how right the wall may be and how wrong the egg, I will stand with the egg." In the Gaza offensive, Israel suffered several tens of casualties, while the Palestinian side was left with 1,300 dead. The "wall and egg" metaphor was perhaps Murakami's way of expressing the mortification he felt towards this absurdity.

Some Israelis in the audience must have found it displeasing. However, the speech closed to an enthusiastic applause and Murakami was surrounded by fans asking for his signature. This gave me a renewed realization of just how powerful words can be. Not once did Murakami use the words Japan or the Japanese. Offered as a voice of an individual, his words came through even more powerfully as a universal message.

In contrast to the light and easy Soft Power of "Cool Japan," Murakami sought our response to the cries of people in agony, relying only on the power of communication carried by his words. I firmly believe that this, indeed, is the best Soft Power.

The writer is a former Professor of Shukutoku University and former London Bureau Chief of the Yomiuri Shimbun.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

北村文夫  / ジャーナリスト

2009年 4月 14日



ソフトパワーの定義はむつかしい。その国の独自の文化や伝統の魅力を伝播することで、他国との親密感や共感度が増大される。非権力型の影響力をもつこうした諸要素が、ソフトパワーと呼ばれているのだろう。この類いのすぐれたハード製品やコンテンツ作品を、日本は数多く作り出してきた。アジアや欧米諸国の若い世代の間で日本マンガの愛好者が急増し、日本のアニメ映画が米国のアカデミー賞を受賞してもだれも驚かなくなった。コンピューター・ゲームでも、日本は世界をリードしている。 日本国内のソフトパワー論議でも、マンガやゲームなど「ポップパワー」を重視する傾向が主流である。このいわゆる「クール・ジャパン」のイメージ効果を過大評価してよいだろうか。若者たちは現代社会の複雑さのなかで、彼らが抱く孤独感の癒し材料としてポップパワーに魅せられていると伝えられる。劇場やテレビで公開されるアニメ映画を除けば、日本製コンテンツの多くは狭い私的空間で消費されているように思う。そうしたコンテンツを送り出す日本側の論議でも、世界各地の抗争や分断とどう対応するかといった視点は希薄である。他者と痛みを分かち合う想像力を欠いたままでは、国際社会での日本と日本人の存在感を高めることはできまい。


イスラエル人聴衆のなかには不快感を抱く人もいたはずだ。だが講演が終わると多くの人が熱い拍手を送り、村上氏はサインを求めるファンに囲まれた。私は言葉がもつ力の強さをあらめて認識した。村上氏は日本人とか日本という言葉は一言も使わなかった。一個人としての発言がメッセージの普遍性をより強く印象づけたと思う。  軽妙な響きをもつ「クール・ジャパン」ソフトパワーとは異なり、村上氏はユーモアを交えた言葉の発信力だけを頼りに、苦悩にあえぐ人々の叫びにどう対応するかを問いかけた。私はこれこそ最良のソフトパワーであると信じる。(了)  

一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟