Skip to content

Podthoughts: The Japan Show

Vital stats:
Format: two expats on the news from Japan, especially of the irksome variety
Episode duration: 35-55m
Frequency: erratic

They call it “Seidensticker Syndrome”, in a tribute of sorts to famed translator and Japanologist Edward Seidensticker. Seidensticker, to put it far too uncomplicatedly, had a love-hate relationship with the country and the people who made the subject of his career. Ian Buruma described it with more nuance, in The Missionary and the Libertine, as “the love that can turn to hate and then back to love again at enormous speed.” I still see these ever-mounting levels of both attraction and frustration today in the eyes of some Westerners who take up residence in Japan. Those who avoid Seidensticker Syndrome do so by pre-emptively abdicating all desire to fit into Japanese society, relishing instead the clear perspective of the permanent outsider. The late Donald Richie, a friend of Seidensticker’s, stands as the locus classicus of this strategy. Seidensticker to Richie: “You will not allow yourself to be furious with these people. Yet, you know at heart you are.” Richie, in his diary: “He really hated himself, not these people [ … ] he should acknowledge the depths of his self-loathing.”

Despite having no sense of whether the hosts of The Japan Show [RSS] [iTunes] suffer from Seidensticker Syndrome themselves, I should note that they spend most of their time talking about the subject that can most readily induce Seidensticker Syndrome: Japanese politics. Westerners who’ve just set foot in the country seem reasonably able to keep a safe psychological distance from their adopted land’s shifty, confusing government, but over the years the irritation evidently mounts to indigestible proportions. On each episode of The Japan Show John Matthews and Gavin Dixon make a meal of the distinctive behavior of Japanese politicians, an improbable-sounding mixture of the clandestine and the intransigent, the pathologically sly and the incompetent. And when an expat in Japan gets to talking about politics, they usually get to talking about political apathy, which there reaches levels disengagement close to absolute. As a Japan specialist recently asked me, what other country has burnt through six prime ministers in six years without any social disruption whatsoever? What other country could?

Read the whole thing at Maximum Fun.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *