Diaoyu Islands

Japanese unmoved by Diaoyus row

While patriotic protesters go wild in China over Diaoyus, the issue doesn't excite people in Yokohama, who see their actions as uncivilised

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 September, 2012, 6:45pm

Tour buses delivered a steady stream of visitors to the colourful carved gateways of Yokohama's Chinatown district yesterday, with its restaurants, fortune-tellers and shops selling everything from jade amulets to panda glove puppets. Sellers of Tsingtao beer did a roaring trade.

It is hard to believe that on the other side of the East China Sea, an estimated 100,000 protesters were stoning consulates, ransacking Japanese department stores and restaurants and setting fire to Japanese-made cars.

The dispute over the Diaoyu Islands - known in Japan as the Senkakus - may have stoked fierce indignation and national pride in China. But the row has aroused little more than indifference in Japan.

"I have seen what they are doing in China on television, but rioting like that is just not the way we do things here," said Kanako Aoki, a Yokohama housewife.

"I've read that they are being encouraged by the government and through the media there, but when we see people acting like that, we think it's uncivilised."

Aoki's words might sound condescending towards China - an attitude many Chinese claim Japan has held for decades - but it does reflect the modern Japanese preference for achieving change through consensus rather than violence.

More than 18 months after the Fukushima nuclear plant spewed radiation across vast tracts of northeast Japan - forcing thousands to flee their homes and destroying the livelihoods of many more - there have been no riots in Tokyo against those who could be considered responsible. A police riot bus is parked around the corner from the headquarters of Tokyo Electric Power and there may be a couple of extra private security staff on the front gate, but they are invariably confronted by a lone protester who stands every day on the corner opposite the main entrance with a placard.

And not once have the routine Friday night anti-nuclear vigils outside the prime minister's official residence turned ugly.

Professor Tom Gill, an anthropologist at Tokyo's Meiji Gakuin University, said: "When it comes to these islands, possession is nine-tenths of the law and the situation is simply that Japan effectively has control of the Senkakus but China wants them.

"I see nationalistic Japanese getting far more hot under the collar over the issue of the Northern Territories, for example, because that territory is now controlled by Russia but Japan wants it back."

Taking a more "detached" view of the Diaoyus dispute, he added: "The question is not so much why there are no anti-Chinese demonstrations in Japan, but why are there so many apparently fanatical protests in China.

"These are tiny, uninhabited islands a long way from anywhere and I would say that the reaction of the Japanese public has been normal.

"It is the Chinese response that has been unnatural and one that has been whipped up by decades of nationalistic teaching and a compliant media there."

Most Japanese believe the government of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda - who is expected to seal re-election as president of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan when its members vote on Friday - has handled the situation correctly by downplaying the purchase of the islands last week and attempting to explain the nation's position to Beijing.

The Chinese government's responses have similarly been soft-pedalled. The news, for example, that six Chinese surveillance ships had entered Japanese territorial waters around the islands last week did not even make the midday news bulletin of national broadcaster NHK.