Out of Japan: As a nation, comparatively self-obsessed

TOKYO - The story goes something like this: At an international convention on the elephant, a group of scientists agree over the dinner table to each write a book about the noble pachyderm, and to present the fruits of their labours at a similar forum in 12 months' time.

At the end of the year, the books are proudly laid out by their respective authors. The Englishman had penned a stirring work: Tales of the Elephant in darkest Africa. The German humbly offered The Elephant, a short Historical Note, in five volumes including footnotes. From the Italian came The Love Life of the Elephant. Keeping Elephants in your Backyard for Fun and Profit was produced by the American. And from Japan: How Elephants see the Japanese - a study in the Elephant-Japan perception gap.

In a rare moment of self- parody, a version of this story was recently printed in a Japanese newspaper, as a gloss to the nation's obsession with how it is viewed by other people. Newspapers and television stations never tire of publicising surveys on the differences between Japan and other countries.

Japan is constantly subjecting itself and the rest of the world to a cultural Geiger counter, and seems most happy when the readings establish what many Japanese take to be a self-evident truth: that as a people they are unique.

To paint a more detailed picture of precisely how different Japanese are, a fortnightly magazine, Da Capo, recently ran a special feature titled 'What is Japan's Status?', with 25 pages of surveys comparing Japan to other countries in everything from economic output to consumption of pornography and the price of bananas.

Japan emerges as number one in terms of working hours, commuting time, cost of living and consumption of pornography. But it lags in other areas: 17th in the number of Olympic gold medals and 14th in the number of Nobel Prizes.

Despite the trend towards shortening working hours in Japan, the average worker puts in 2,124 hours a year, compared to 1,953 hours in the US and just 1,598 in Germany. And worse again, the German layabout actually earns more than his hard-pressed Japanese counterpart. How, a Tokyoite might wonder, can the Germans get away with such luxury? After all, Germans consume 142.7 litres of beer per capita each year, compared to just 55.6 litres for a Japanese. Even the British drink less beer - 105.7 litres per capita - although they also get paid much less.

Nor does it pay to be a top entertainer in Japan. The highest-paid television entertainer in the US, according to Da Capo, is Bill Cosby, who pulled in 11.7tr yen last year ( pounds 66m). Compared to that, Japan's highest paid entertainer, Tsuyoshi Nagabuchi, is almost on the breadline, with 340m yen ( pounds 1.94m).

And even if Britain has won 86 Nobel Prizes compared to Japan's seven, the difference in gross national product per capita is enormous: dollars 25,430 ( pounds 16,197) for Japan, compared to dollars 16,070 ( pounds 10,235) for Britain. What is more, bananas are cheaper in Tokyo than in London.

But still Japan has difficulties in striding forth on the world stage. Japanese politicians are inferior to Westerners in their appearance, height, linguistic ability and general performance, according to the magazine.

And what impact have individual Japanese had in the world? Very little, it would seem, from the results of another survey, published in last week's Yomiuri Shimbun, the nation's biggest circulation daily paper.

People in the US, UK, Germany and France were asked to name a famous Japanese. Nearly three-quarters of those polled could not name one single famous Japanese person. Of those who did, Emperor Hirohito was the most frequently mentioned, followed by John Lennon's wife, Yoko Ono. Many French respondents for some reason thought Mao Tse-tung was Japanese. Maybe the newspaper should have polled elephants to get their views.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe C-Word, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Sport
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk