Viewing Japan from Vietnam
Disaster ironically helped Japan’s image
By Devin T. Stewart | September 13, 2011
© 2011 The Oriental Economist. Reproduced here with kind permission.
The March 11 earthquake, tsunami, and resulting nuclear accident have led some to question the health of Japan's "brand" or image abroad. Before March 11, Japanese products, services, and business partnerships in recent years had enjoyed a halo effect emanating from Japan's reputation as a land of safety, efficiency, and trustworthiness. But as renowned columnist Yoichi Funabashi warns in the new book Reimagining Japan: The Quest for a Future that Works, "Instead of viewing Japan as a haven of immunity from danger and inconvenience, many around the world now perceive the country as fraught with peril and discomfort." The impact of the recent disasters on Japan's reputation has been one of the focal points of experts who worry that the disaster would damage the prospects of Japan's strategic growth industries such as cuisine, tourism, services, and assorted precision parts vital to the Information Technology era. But this is not the whole story.
Rather it is the perseverance and calm that Japanese society demonstrated during the crisis that remains the enduring image of Japan in the minds of many people. A case in point is in Vietnam, a country I visited in June to conduct research on attitudes toward Japan and the United States. Every Vietnamese expert with whom I spoke—including policymakers, businesspeople, academics, journalists, and consultants—told me that their impression of Japan had in fact been further enhanced since the March 11 earthquake. As one senior advisor to the Vietnamese government said to me, "Increasingly Vietnam sees Japan as a counterweight to China, and after March 11 Japanese people seemed more human to Vietnamese. The earthquake broke stereotypes [about Japan being mysterious]. Now Vietnam feels closer to Japan."
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