Monday, August 15, 2011

Summer Fellows 2011-The General Perception of Japan by Taiwanese

The level of pro-Japanese sentiment around Taipei has only surprised me. Before my arrival in Taiwan for my summer program, I knew that Taiwan was a predominantly pro-Japanese country. However, I had also heard that Taipei had the highest concentration of Waishengren (外省人), Han Chinese that emigrated to Taiwan after 1949 that, understandably, hold negative views towards Japan. Images of anti-Japan demonstrations over territorial disputes in 2008 crossed my mind as well. I landed in Taipei expecting to experience a few sneers and jeers. But what I have seen is an overwhelming positive view of Japan throughout Taiwanese society.

Pro-Japanese sentiment crosses all generations. The most notable group is the elderly that were raised during colonial rule. It can be said that these people are more Japanese than people nowadays in Japan. When I met a few of them at a nearby park, the Japanese they spoke was not only flawless, but incredibly polite. One even asked me how the emperor’s health was! At a time when slang has overtaken honorifics and the imperial family largely forgotten in the public conscience, it was incredible to meet a group of people outside of Japan that still kept Japanese values at heart.

The younger generation may not ask how the emperor is doing, but nevertheless have a large intrigue towards Japanese language and culture. Japanese is the second most popular language studied amongst Taiwanese college students (after English). Streets are full of billboards that say meiriyu (美日語: English and Japanese language classes). Given the high number of Japanese foreign exchange students, it is common to see Taiwnaese-Japanese student mixers, where people find language exchange partners. The younger Taiwanese are also intrigued by Japan’s modern culture. Clothing stores frequently have a section of Rishi (Japanese style clothing. Manga shops are prevalent, full of translated Japanese comic books, And last week, I saw a line four blocks long for people waiting to enter an anime convention. Although some reports speculated after the 2008 territorial disputes that the younger generation of Taiwanese was turning their back towards Japan, what I saw did not suggest any of that.

After the March 11 Earthquake, this society-wide pro-Japanese sentiment translated into overwhelming amounts of donations. Taiwan has sent over 1 billion yen to the earthquake-stricken areas, dwarfing the total collected in the United States. In newspaper ads and billboards (such as one in Ximending, a popular shopping district), messages of gratitude from private Japanese groups are frequently seen.

I myself have been participating in the WA Project, a facebook group that seeks to maintain the awareness about the 311 earthquake. The project collects photographs of people holding hands which symbolize that people around the world support Japan. With the help of many friends from my language program, I have been traveling across Taipei taking these photos with local Taiwanese. When I am explaining the concept of the project, many are enthusiastic to take part, often asking if all of my family members are safe. In the last two weeks alone, I have taken over 50 photographs for the WA Project.

Note: A WA Project photo of myself with volunteers for the Democratic Progressive Party. Taken in Ximen, Taipei.

Kazunori Koyama
BA, International Affairs 2012
Taipei, Taiwan

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