Is Time doing another Newsweek?

How do Time chose Asian heroes?The way that Newsweek changes its front covers (and lead articles) to cater for its local audience is old news. It seems that Newsweek has particularly been sensitive to their US readership when it comes to the war on terrorism. You can read about the most recent editorialism here on this page detailing how the US English edition was different to other international English editions in September, this year. Our biking gaijin friend at ridingsun was also kind enough to point out a less known discrepancy between the Japanese language edition and the English language edition from May of last year. We were lucky that we noticed about these, but how regularly are the magazines that we read biased due to a US centric editorial policy in a more subtle way.

To celebrate the 60th anniversary of publishing an Asian edition, Time Magazine has published a special feature called “60 Years of Asian Heroes” in it’s latest edition (Nov 13, ’06). Being a big fan of the up and rising stars in Asia, I was quick to pick up a copy. It is a little embarrassing to admit, but I was pleasantly surprised by the number of names that I didn’t recognize on the list. Despite having lived in the “Far East” for over a decade, I was subtly reminded that Asia is a large place filled with lots of inspirational “heroes”. (Did you know that Freddy Mercury was actually an Indian called Farrokh Bulsara?)

But after reading a few pages, I was troubled by the lack of Japanese people mentioned in the special. In fact, the first “Japanese” person to make an appearance was General Douglas MacArthur! (I think you can see where I’m going with this.) Sure, I can see why MacArthur may be a hero in Asia for the people of United States, but I’ll give a candy to the first person who can show me a Japanese person who thinks so. (I doubt if he’d even spring to mind!!) Incidentally, it isn’t just the Japanese, the first “Hong Kong Hero” to show his face in the mag was an equally appropriate Sir Murray MacLehose.

General Douglas MacArthur - who's your hero?

The Time Asia list of Asian Heroes was divided into five categories and the Japanese representatives were:

  • “National Builders” (only General Douglas MacArthur)
  • “Artists & Thinkers” (Akira Kurosawa, Hayao Miyazaki, Kenzo Tange, Seiji Ozawa)
  • “Business Leaders” (Akio Morita, Masaru Ibuka, Hanae Mori, Yohji Yamamoto, Issey Miyake, Rei Kawakubo, Shigeru Miyamoto)
  • “Athletes & Exoplorers” (Sadaharu Oh)
  • “Inspirations” (none)

Rikidozan is toughAll of these peoples are nothing more than hereos in the eyes of Americans. Sure, they are Japanese people who have “made it” on the international stage but that doesn’t guarantee their status as heroes to the Japanese populace. Why isn’t there a place for Rikidozan, the man who captured the hearts and hopes of the Japanese when they had no confidence in themselves, or their nation. Dare I say that maybe it was because he was portrayed as the man who stood up to and beat the Americans?
In the article, Kurosawa was portrayed as a director who was loved by Westerners but misunderstood by the Japanese (I personally disagree). Morita was described as a success because Sony was the first Japanese company to list on the New York Stock Exchange and pointed out specifically that he spent most of his time in the US from the 1950s onwards. Not surprisingly, none of the authors who wrote about Japan’s heroes were ethnically Japanese either. Is it that hard to find good Japanese journalistic expertise?

On the business front, I wonder if Dr. Kazuo Inamori or even Horiemon warrant a mention. Surely they have had just as much, if not more influence, on the hearts of the nihonjin? Are there really no Japanese “inspirations”? While I’m no expert on Japanese politics, I’d love to hear your opinion on whether there should there be room for Shigeru Yoshida or Noboru Takeshita?

Cup Ramen the best invention of the 20th century ... apparentlyThe one entry in the list that gave me a pleasant surprise was Momofuku Ando. As the founding father of both chicken ramen and instant noodles, he really did shape Japanese society. I don’t know if he is a hero to the Japanese people in the Western sense of the word but we are talking about the nation who voted instant noodles as the best invention of the twentieth century!

Who do you think the Japanese would chose as their true post-war heroes?

13 thoughts on “Is Time doing another Newsweek?”

  1. Following is a reply to Red when I was asked for my comments about “Asian heroes for Japanese people”, and I wrote the reply before I read Red’s comment above. Quite surprising is that what Red thought is quite similar to what I did. In my university, Red was said to be a Japanese in gaijin appearance, but I again came to firmly belive it.

    I have not read the article yet, but it seems that the heroes mentioned here is those for American people. MacArthur should be hero for American, but he’s just a occupant for Japanese people.

    My opinion is that basically Japanese people tend not to have heroes whereas Americans love having their heroes. Horiemon would be a hero and would not have been arrested for vague reason if he were doing his biz in U.S. Maybe the reason is that Japanese people likes equality and treasure conformity. If I make a penetrating comment, Japanese people envies other people’s success instead of respecting it.

    However, right after the WW2, Japanese people had heroes because Japanese people were losing their pride then. So, people who offered hope to Japanese people were definitely heroes. Such people are as follows:

    -湯川秀樹 who is the first Japanese winner of Nobel price in 1950

    My personal opinion is that 天皇陛下 is the biggest hero for Japanese people because 天皇陛下 has been offering huge hope to Japanese people and is respected by all Japanese people except those who don’t studied Japanese history well. But we never call 天皇陛下 as hero.

  2. >Why isn’t there a place for Rikidozan, the man who captured the hearts and hopes of the Japanese?
    Perhaps because he’s actually Korean?

    But nice article mr Red.
    When I’m in Japan, I read the Internal Herald Tribune cos it seems to the newspaper that editorial slant that I particular agree with most), but more importantly is somewhat of an international paper

  3. Does the article list the criteria they used to define “hero”? The examples listed don’t really seem to fit a pattern. Are we talking about people beloved by the citizens of the nation? Innovators who shaped society? Groundbreaking achievements? Cultural icons? People who risked life and limb in pursuit of their goals and visions?
    I agree with Kadaijin’s opinion that the Japanese don’t seem to single out an individual for their achievement or accomplishment but rather place value on the group efforts and contribution from the anonymous masses.

  4. Thanks for your comment Kadaijin, why shouldn’t the 天皇陛下 (emperor) be up there on the list? A hero for the people of a nation is a person who captures the hopes, dreams and sometimes even fear of the populace. I think Hirohito did a better job of doing that than MacArthur.

  5. Dont worry guys, anyone that reads Time magazine needs their heads examined anyway.

    You can never rely on it as a source of objective and unbiased journalism, just as CNN for TV news….its just a widespread U.S. propaganda tool.(as every good Iraqi knows…)

    That special on Asian Heros proves it in black n white!

  6. It was interesting to see Sachin Tendulkar in the list. Maybe someone bothered to ask the Indians who they want as their hero rather than electing heros on their behalf (as seems to be the case for the Japanese heros)

  7. ET – you are hitting the nail right on the head there. Nowhere is Time defining what they believe to be a hero. I think Kadaijin has a pretty good point that even the definition of “hero” might be different in the West than in the East (or at least Japan.) Have you ever asked a Japanese what the word “hero” means to them?

  8. Fair point, Michael. What is interesting is that the vast majority of Japanese people don’t seem to know that Rikidozan was Korean. It doesn’t mention it on the wikipedia site that you linked for us, but apparently 力道山 (the kanji for rikidozan) is the name of a mountain in Korea. 😉 All said and done, a hero is someone who excites a nation, and I’m pretty sure that Rikidozan did a better of job of that than General Douglas did. (In way of rebuttal, “Time” was happy enough including 王監督 (Sadaharu Oh) who is half Chinese!)

  9. Is this the wrestler Rikidozan? The guy who was became famous for relighting the Japanese spirit in the 50’s as he beat a couple of guys from the US? This was also just when the TV appeared making him all the more famous. But all his fights were rigged right?

    He had huge Yakuza connections, and was eventually stabbed to death.

    I think he counts as a hero for what he did to Japan as a nation, but you need to exclude both those parts as well as the Korean part.

  10. What excellent timing. The Wall Street Journal published its list of “The 50 Women to Watch 2006” yesterday. In it there was one Japanese person, Akiko Ide (Senior VP at Docomo). Interestingly, they seem to have added an extra page to their Asian edition. I quote:

    “A single, global list of Women to Watch doesn’t always do justice to the growing influence of Asia’s women business leaders.”

    I wonder how that got past their global editor. This list has two more representatives from the Land of the Rising Sun: Mika Noguchi (Peach John) and Yukako Uchinaga (IBM Japan). Have you heard of either?

    I must say, including Zhang Ziyi is stretching it a little too far…

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