1999, Andrew Horvat has been the Japan representative of The
Asia Foundation. Before that, he spent 35 years as a journalist,
28 of which he has spent in Japan. In his long career, he
has worked for such newspapers such as The Mainichi Daily
News, Associated Press Tokyo, Asia correspondent
of Southam News of Canada, covering all of Asia for 17
large and small regional papers throughout Canada, Tokyo-based
reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering Japan
and Korea; correspondent of The Independent (UK),
and Northeast Asia Bureau Chief of “Marketplace” Radio (USA).
He has also contributed as a stringer to The Washington
Post, the Times of London, the International
Herald Tribune, the Far Eastern Economic Review,
and Der Spiegel.
also had a separate career writing and broadcasting in Japanese,
contributing to Bungei Shunju, Shokun, the
Asahi Shinbun, the Mainichi Shinbun, AERA,
and taking turns with Lucy Craft and other Tokyo-based reporters
as a bilingual news commentator on NHK BS-1’s “ABC News in
to numerous articles, Mr. Hovat is the author of “Overcoming
the Negative Legacy of the Past: Why Europe is a Positive
Example for East Asia,” Brown Journal of World Affairs,
Summer-Fall 2004; Sharing the Burden of the Past: Legacies
of War in Europe, America and Asia, (co-edited with Gebhard
Hielscher) joint publication of The Asia Foundation
and the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, Tokyo, 2003, “Moving
Forward Into the Past,” Literary Review of Canada,
July-August 2004; Open Up Japan, dual-language book
of essays on contemporary Japan, written in both English and
Japanese published by Kodansha International, 1999.
has a B.A. and M.A. in Asian Studies from the University
of British Columbia; one year spent as undergraduate
at Keio University and has also studied at University
of Michigan, the David Lam Centre for International
Communication, Simon Fraser University, Canada
(1990), Stanford’s Center for East Asian Studies
(1994-95) and six months at the National Foreign Language
Center, Washington DC (1997).
born in Budapest, Hungary, Mr. Horvat speaks fluent Japanese.
He speaks Hungarian and studied Korean, French, German, Russian,
Spanish, Latin, and dabbled informally with Portuguese.
January 31, 2005
ask this question to everyone because every answer is different:
what brought you to Japan?
Several reasons: Growing up in Hungary, I had never come into
contact with anyone from Asia. The first time I ever saw anyone
with Asian features was in Edmonton on a street when I was
ten years old. My father and I got off the refugee train that
was taking us to Vancouver and I still remember suddenly becoming
aware that there were people who looked quite different from
me. I had never seen anyone who was not a “Caucasian” until
immigrant, I had to attend ESL school (although it had the
euphemistic name of “English for new Canadians) and there
too I came into contact with immigrants from Asia, mostly
China since it was difficult for Japanese to get into Canada
until the early 1960s. My education in Canada was patriotically
Anglo-Saxon. I recall the principal of Cecil Rhodes Elementary
School (named after the colonizer of Rhodesia) giving us sixth
grade students a special lecture on the “English race” and
why young English girls all have rosy cheeks. I can’t quite
remember now why, but he seemed to think the cheeks of English
girls were pinker than the cheeks of any other girls and that
this was significant enough to share with us 12-year olds.
school, we were taught in our Canadian history class that
even though the white man had brought alcohol, guns and diseases
to North America, decimating native populations, the blessings
of the Christian religion more than made up for these scourges.
I recall taking issue with this sentence in our textbook in
class and finding myself in a minority.
is now the land of multiculturalism and people tend to forget
how lonely it could be in the 1950s and even the early 1960s.
To argue that there was rampant and open discrimination in
Canada back then would be wrong. But to suggest there was
curiosity about the rest of the world would be wrong too.
The Japanese and Chinese language courses of the Asian Studies
Department of the University of British Columbia—unlike
today—were hardly oversubscribed.
advisor, Malcolm MacGregor, who wore his academic robes to
the Latin and Greek classes he taught, informed me that I
could not enroll in first year Japanese in my first year because
“first year Japanese is for second year students.” When I
did get to take Japanese in second year I finished at the
top of my class and qualified for an exchange program with
Keio University. That is how I got to spend a year in Japan
the fascination with Japan more or less permanent came from
the stimulus of living astride a cultural and linguistic divide.
That, and what psychologists call intermittent reinforcement—the
random pattern of success and failure in communicating in
Japanese with Japanese are what have kept me here. When a
monkey gets a banana every time he pushes the right button,
he loses interest. It is when the banana doesn’t come even
when the monkey pushes the right button that he stays in front
of the machine and keeps pushing.
you tell us a little about your role at the Asia Foundation
as well as its mission?
The mission of The Asia Foundation is laid out in pretty straightforward
fashion on two websites: the home office site at www.asiafoundation.org
and the site of the Japan office, which I am proud to say
I helped launch in 1999, and which can be accessed at www.ajiazaidan.org.
the foundation office in Japan works in a number of fields
including migration issues, the social, economic and gender
consequences of population aging, the one program area I am
really proud to have been associated with is historical reconciliation.
Gebhard Hielscher, Tokyo representative of the German Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung
and I have co-convened several major programs on such issues
as high school history textbooks (and how they deal with Japan’s
negative past), forced labor during World War II in Germany
and Japan, and most recently, a weekend workshop and symposium
on “Tainted Treasures,” dealing with the controversial transfer
of some 300,000 cultural artifacts from Korea to Japan during
colonial and pre-colonial times.
you think reporting on Japan has changed? If so, how?
Reporting on Japan has both improved and deteriorated. The
ability of journalists to gather facts has improved tremendously.
For one thing, a large number of journalists are now bilingual.
This has made a huge difference in both the speed and the
quality of information exchange. What has made reporting worse
is that it has declined in quantity and variety.
Wall Street Journal or the Financial Times are
now full of news on Japan, but if you want to find out about
civil society movements, the phenomenal growth of which have
altered the lives of millions of Japanese, you have to track
down Jeff Kingston’s Japan's Quiet Transformation,
which you will have to order on the Internet and which you
will have to find out about, again, probably on the Internet.
that Japan is uninteresting—an incorrect view held by
the majority of leaders and readers around the world these
days—is the result of too much financial coverage of
Japan and too little of much else. Japan has indeed suffered
from a “lost decade” if you put your money in equities in
1989, but if you were looking at gender relations, you probably
would think that the nineties were a time of significant gains
for Japanese women, especially those in the upper strata of
the work force. (Feminist critics would argue that Japanese
women are still suffering from serious discrimination in wages
and promotion but the gender gap for workers in their 20s
has been virtually closed indicating that enormous progress
has been achieved. For older workers, the opposite has been
true. Many unskilled, older women suffer, but then so do older
men, whose record number of suicides have actually brought
down Japan’s much vaunted life expectancy figures for the
first time since the end of World War II.)
are your thoughts on kisha clubs?
If you are covering breaking news, the kisha clubs can be
a real bother. I have been on the receiving end of discriminatory
treatment and I was furious. There is also something inherently
wrong about news cartels, but that is something Japanese citizens
are going to have to get together to change.
you think your ideas on Japan and/or how you perceive Japan
have changed since your days as a cub reporter?
I should hope so. I’m now older and tend to get angry less
than before but that may not be a good thing because reporting
is not scholarship. A reporter should be angered by the sight
of Kurdish refugees seeking asylum and being given refugee
status by the UNHCR being deported to Turkey by Japanese authorities.
At the same time, however, there is no reason to get hot under
the collar about trade imbalances.
seems to us that in recent mainstream American newspapers
(and to some extent British newspapers) the quirky and bizarre
are considered more “newsworthy” than hard news. One interesting
book that came out was written by a group of Japanese nationals
living in New York City, Japan: Made in U.S.A. (Zipangu
1998); it was in reaction to mainstream coverage of Japan
in the New York Times, especially the coverage of
foreign correspondent, Nicholas D. Kristof. Do you think that
they had a legitimate complaint?
I did not follow Kristof’s writings very closely but the piece
I read by him about Japanese women speaking in unnaturally
high-pitched voices I found to be superficial, and, I suppose
if I were a Japanese, offensive. In the West, we pay huge
sums to hear coloratura sopranos. I don’t believe they suffer
because of their physical contortions. I found Kristof’s article
judgmental and moralistic. I think readers should expect a
somewhat more dispassionate approach.
it is more entertaining to read something written with a detached
attitude. It is true that the status of Japanese women declined
during the high growth era of the 60s and 70s. The fact that
Kristof found such high pitched voices irritating is one thing;
if, on the other hand, such high pitched voices represented
an accentuation of traditional views of femininity, what other
evidence do we have for tendencies toward excessive femininity
among Japanese women. There was, for example the burikko phenomenon.
If Kristof had taken the trouble to analyze the changes in
women’s ideal images, he might have found that exaggeration
of feminine traits is probably in decline in Japan since the
bursting of the bubble and the trend is now toward more gender
equality in the work force.
as a Canadian, I am quite used to the US media distorting
the image of foreign countries. I still remember the report
on a US news show about the brave rescue of an American scientist
in the Antarctic who was suffering from cancer. The US network
focused on the great work of the rescuers, never once mentioning
that they were Canadians. Hollywood movies constantly write
Canada out of scripts because of the assumption that it would
complicate the story for US audiences. I suppose Belgians
feel the same irritation with the French media, and New Zealanders
with the Australians. British journalism, too, is famous for
laughing at others.
that the Zipangu people voiced their dissatisfaction.
I am not sure I would agree that journalism should always
be sensitive. It should be fun and journalists should be allowed
to make mistakes. If they are too careful, they will err on
the side of caution and that may do more damage than an occasional
gaffe. But, when journalists consistently write about what
they perceive to be the inadequacies of an entire people,
they can influence the perception of their readers about another
country. Since we now live in an era of public diplomacy,
such writings need to be contested and impressions corrected.
Zipangu did this the right way, and they did succeed in getting
a lot of publicity for their views.
once wrote a book entitled Japanese Beyond Words: How
to Walk and Talk Like a Native Speaker. At what point
are you really and truly speaking “like a native”? Is speaking
“like a native” the same thing as “acceptance”?
Actually, the part of the title about becoming like a native
speaker was something I very much regret having agreed to.
The original title was something like “a guide to verbal and
non-verbal communication in Japan.”
to realize just how sophisticated the average consumer of
Japan-related language books had become. I was correctly criticized
for suggesting in the title that speaking like a native is
an appropriate goal. Of course, if a reader bothers to go
through the book, especially the interview with the late Ron
Walton (On becoming an ideal foreigner), it will become clear
that the whole book is about “being accepted as a foreigner”
and not “melting into the crowd,” which would in any case
be difficult for many foreign students of Japanese.
bring up a number of examples of cultural miscommunication.
Whose responsibility is it to understand the “other”? Presumably
both, but why isn’t it happening as evidenced by the need
to publish your book? Related to this, at what point can you
say that a given cultural viewpoint/mannerism/gesture is indicative
of a culture? How much is a given quirk just mere personality?
And can such things be quantified?
Linguists make the above distinctions very clear by distinguishing
between a “dialect” and an “idiolect.” The former is a speech
trait typical of a distinct group of people while the latter
a trait that is idiosyncratic, i.e. belonging to an individual.
If you are focusing on the resistance many foreign speakers
of Japanese (non-Asians) encounter in being understood in
Japanese (when speaking natural Japanese, or rather, especially
when speaking natural Japanese) to certain native speakers
of Japanese, this is not an idiosyncratic trait.
a case of cognitive dissonance, which is not unique to Japanese
people. I heard not long ago about a Japanese speaker of Yiddish
encountering similar problems in Israel with a Yiddish-speaking
Jew who could not accept the fact that he had been speaking
in Yiddish: it ought not to be happening so it is not happening.
This response is universal among human beings.
are, of course, many Japanese who simply do not like speaking
Japanese with foreigners. This is not a problem if they speak
some other mutually understandable language well. If they
do not handle another language well, or handle another language
and insist on speaking that, well, then this is a kind of
idiosyncratic behavior. It is unpleasant but hardly exists
in epidemic proportions. Then, of course, there are just plain
difficult people, and one would not expect to be able to communicate
with such people in any language.
your review of James Fallows’ book, Looking at the Sun:
the Rise of the New East Asian Economic and Political System,
you argue that many of the author’s inaccuracies and exaggerations
are just a much the result of a “visceral hostility toward
[Japan]” as it was “plain carelessness” (“America, Take Off
Your Sunglasses,” Los Angeles Times, Book Review,
Sunday, August 7, 1994, pg. 12) Is “visceral hostility” the
same thing as “Japan bashing”? Why or why not?
As a reporter, I recall becoming very passionate about the
sufferings of Koreans under Japanese rule. I remember making
a visit to Korea and hearing stories of appalling atrocities
committed by Japanese marines after the uprising of March
1, 1919, only to find out virtually the same day that the
brother-in-law of my Korean teacher had been invited to Hiroshima
to take part in a high school reunion. His trip was being
arranged by his former classmates, all of whom were Japanese.
is a passionate writer and I think he writes well and generally
accurately about issues with which he is familiar. I think
he would have written very differently about Japan if he had
stayed longer and had a chance to meet people who might have
contradicted his very strong first impressions of Japan. Fallows
was already very famous by the time he came to Japan, so most
people he met either agreed with him or kept quiet.
writing can lead to inaccuracies because when you write you
really hope that your adversary is truly wicked. Unfortunately
for the visceral writer, it is rather rare that we come across
people who are thoroughly evil. Usually, they contain all
the human failings including arrogance and hubris, faults
for which Japanese are now paying a very high price.
You wrote this review 10 years ago, do you think such
attitudes and analyses as Fallows’ was prevalent at the time?
A number of economic recessions later, do you think it is
still prevalent today?
I would say not at all. But I would agree with Charles Burress
that the dusting off of old images of Japan did give new life
to the stereotypes of the unpredictable Japanese, or in fact,
of inscrutable foreigners in general. And since I am by religion
and background, someone whose not too distant ancestors were
all too convenient heretics for whatever orthodoxy was around,
I found the revisionist period to be personally abhorrent.
I am delighted
to say that Ian Buruma, upon seeing the movie “Rising Sun”
felt exactly the same way as I did. In that movie, all one
had to do was substitute the word Japanese for Jew and one
would have had pure Nazi propaganda. Yes, this was a very
frightening period, and no, we probably did not learn enough
the sake of our readers who were never following the debate,
what is Japan revisionism?
In very simple terms, revisionism meant coming to terms with
the shock that Japan was “not like us.” During the Cold War,
we (the Western camp under the leadership of the US) had decided
that during the 1930s the good, decent, democracy-yearning
Japanese people had been hijacked by a group of evil thugs
known collectively as “the militarists” and who used a xenophobic
hate cult called “Emperor-worship” to delude their citizens
from the true path of democracy, freedom and all the things
we believe to be good.
after WWII, we discovered that the Japanese, thanks to the
policies of the Occupation had become 100 percent educated
in democracy and were ready to take their place in the international
community as members of the democratic Western camp. Revisionism
consisted of the discovery that the above Cold War vision
of Japan was flawed.
the early stages of revisionism were full of bitterness toward
Japan for not having become the country we so desperately
wished it to be. Revisionist writers discovered that Japan
was not quite as democratic as we thought; it had been ruled
by the same party since 1955.
found out that the Japanese domestic market was not quite
as free as we thought either. There were cartels, and powerful
bureaucrats who didn’t think that Adam Smith was right at
all about the market being inherently just, and who could
engage in arbitrary action to intervene often on behalf of
local corporations so they could compete more effectively
against foreign corporations. We looked inside Japan closely,
and found not only that the Japanese were not like us, but
that there was not much room for us. Moreover, they were doing
better than us, and—or so it seemed—had succeeded
by other rules. So, we took a hard look at Japan, and began
to criticize it totally, forgetting that just a few decades
earlier we had praised it just as totally.
back then, we needed Japan as an ally against international
In your essay, “Reviewing Revisionism: Judging the
legacy of an era of US-Japan acrimony” (The Asia Foundation,
2000), you summarize both the positive and negative interpretations
of revisionism as exemplified by two panelists: MIT
professor Richard Samuels (positive) and San Francisco
Chronicle journalist, Charles Burress (negative). Samuels
argued that “revisionism served the positive purpose of inspiring
a new generation of American social scientists to focus their
research on business, the economy, and public policy issues.”
Burress, on the other hand, “countered that revisionism had
opened a Pandora’s Box from which unflattering media images
of Japan continue to follow to the present day.” What we want
to know: Who is really right? In your view, was revisionism
ultimately a good thing or a bad thing? Can (and should) we
separate its impact on academe from its impact on the media?
I think both Samuels and Burress were right. I explained above
that I agreed with Burress about his Pandora’s Box image.
But I also believe Samuels had a valid point and this had
to do with the rather poor quality of public diplomacy practiced
by Japan at that time.
connecting Japanese and Americans was very thin and often
the conduits between Japan and America were professional lobbyists,
not true friends at all. Japanese lobbying was massive but
most of the money went to a few people in Washington. Many
Japanese in leadership positions felt that with “such powerful
friends” they didn’t need to worry about public opinion.
Japanese funding of Japanese studies was based on an old-fashioned
view of Asian Studies: culture, arts and so on. Traveling
kabuki plays are fun but they really don’t result in the promotion
of better understanding of the other side’s business environment.
not surprisingly, were not generally Japan specialists. I
think a lot has been done to address the conditions that considerably
worsened US-Japan relations at the time of the trade dispute.
Take for example the setting up of the Center for Global Partnership.
This arm of the Japan Foundation concentrates almost entirely
on funding joint research in the social sciences, business,
and international relations. In 15 years, the CGP has spawned
books, has nurtured a new generation of young Japan-literate
experts who will be teaching and moving in and out of government
positions in the US. The Japan Foundation has poured an enormous
amount of money and effort into promoting the study of the
Japanese language at the pre-collegiate level in the US. This
is an extremely far-sighted policy aimed at increasing the
breadth of contacts in US-Japan relations. I can’t say that
we are seeing the dawning of a new era, but I hope that such
sudden and dangerous shifts in perceptions of each other as
occurred in the 80s will now be less likely to happen in the
future. I don’t think we have eliminated all dangers.
same essay, you write that former MITI vice-minister Kuroda
raised the issue that the first warning signs of coming difficulties
in US-Japan relations can be seen in the American press treatments
of Japan. The “press” were “harbingers of changes in policy.”
Looking at the press coverage on Japan now, what signs of
change do you see?
I’m not sure I agree with Kuroda. I think the press is generally
quite late in grasping trends. If I see a corporation featured
on the cover of a magazine, to me it’s time to sell the shares
of that firm.
could extend the question to, say, looking at the press coverage
overall, what policy changes do you see toward Asia?
All I can say is that I hope our leaders are reading more
than just newspapers and magazines. If they only know what
I know, we are in trouble.
gets your vote for best and worst book on Japan?
Ronald Dore’s Education in Tokugawa Japan (University
of Michigan Press: 1992) helped liberate me from many of the
fixed ideas I had about Japan, especially the notion that
everything before 1868 was feudal and backward, and that somehow,
modern Japan was created by a group of brilliant men who studied
practices in Europe and America, and then built a successful
capitalist nation state from scratch.
Edo Period Japan was feudal, and yes, some brilliant leaders
did emerge in the period before and after then Meiji Revolution,
but their brilliance would have come to naught had it not
been for the intellectual infrastructure built up through
the ages until 1868. Dore focused on the “terakoya” (Buddhist
temple schools) to which a large number of Japanese families
were sending their children since well before 1868. Japanese
families knew that if their children went to the “terakoya”
their lives would be brighter and more secure.
for learning and knowledge existed in Japan prior to 1868;
moreover, literacy rates in Japan at that time were considerably
higher than in England, which at that time was the leading
industrial power in the world. Dore not only taught me how
to look at Japan with fresh eyes, but also to mistrust fixed
ideas. This was the right attitude to have when embarking
on a career as a journalist.
a worst book, there aren’t too many these days. It is truly
remarkable how good the quality of writing on Japan has become.
A new generation of scholars is writing wonderful books on
Japan and East Asia in general.
are you reading right now? In general, what do you like to
I read mostly for my work so right now I am wading through
material on historical reconciliation, such as Funabashi Yôichi’s
Ima rekishi mondai ni dô torikumu ka (Iwanami
shoten 2001), and since I am writing an article on the role
of civil society in historical reconciliation, I am also taking
copious notes based on essays in The State of Civil Society
in Japan, edited by Susan Pharr and Frank Schwartz (Cambridge,
I am reviewing
Under an Imperial Sun: Japanese Colonial Literature of
Taiwan and the South (University of Hawaii Press: 2003)
by Faye Yuan Kleeman and finding it nothing less than eye-opening.
My Abe fellowship project was on Japanese as an international
language. This book shows that during colonial times Taiwanese
writers were writing in Japanese. As I am a jack of all trades,
I have been following the very rich output of books and essays
on aspects of the Japanese language written mostly in Japanese.
is without a doubt Shibata Takeshi’s (or as he would like
me to write it Sibata Takesi’s) Nihongo wa omoshiroi.
I borrowed liberally from Professor Shibata’s writings when
I wrote a column on language for the Asahi Evening News
until it merged with the International Herald Tribune.
Ôta Yûzô’s Eigo to Nihonjin is
full of fascinating information about such brilliant Japanese
speakers of English as Nitobe Inazô (Bushido) and Okakura
Tenshin (The Book of Tea). Ôta is meticulous in the
compilation of humorous detail about Edo Period Japanese who
suffered from the same dilettantish attitudes toward the study
of Dutch as many of their descendants today display toward
merchants recall having to please their Japanese hosts by
granting them Dutch names, much as today, truly enthusiastic
Japanese students of business English insist on being called
“Jack,” or “Suzie” or on occasion, “Dudley.”
you tell us a little more about your current projects? What
are you working on now?
I’m working with Professor Fujisawa Fusatoshi of Tokyo Keizai
University to set up an International Center for Historical
Reconciliation. This year being the 60th anniversary of the
end of World War II, hopefully some people will take note
of the fact that while Europe has come a long way in promoting
a shared vision of the future through a thorough examination
of the past, in East Asia, little progress has been made in
either direction. The purpose of the Center is to encourage
reconciliation and to help Japanese and other East Asians
look for successful formulas in peace-building tried elsewhere.
books needs to be written on Japan? Will you be writing it?
There is definitely a need for a book on 20th century intellectual
history. Andrew Barshay is one of very few scholars in this
field. We desperately need to see more Japanese essays translated
and annotated so that non-Japan-specialists can access how
Japanese perceive themselves and their place in the world.
to put together an edited volume on key essays from the end
of World War II to the present and discovered that whatever
had been translated was not easily available while major Japanese
essays, such as Sakaguchi Ango’s Darakuron written
immediately after Japan’s defeat in 1945 was not to be had
in English. Monumental essays, which have articulated the
mood not only of Japan’s intellectual world but also of the
nation at certain key times in its history, are unavailable
for study and discussion by interested non-specialist foreigners.
This is not only a shame but a formula for future miscommunication.
I would like to write is about the challenges of historical
reconciliation in East Asia, contrasting successive failures
with successes in Europe. The issue is not that the Germans
are good and the Japanese bad, but rather why one process
has worked and the other has not.