Wood: Japan reacts to Donald Trump

American President Donald Trump arrived in Japan last Saturday, Nov. 4. Tokyo was the first stop of a twelve-day Asian tour. He was greeted enthusiastically by the Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe. The two played golf, ate hamburgers and even signed hats that said “Donald & Shinzo: Make Alliance Even Greater.” So kawaii of the two leaders, right?

But I’ve seen a different side to the story. The Japanese are not all as warm towards the American president as their elected leader would make it seem. The Japanese people I’ve met are far too polite to bridge the topic of American politics; at the same time, this is what makes their opinion so clear. Japan would never send such a loud, rash, easily-provoked, controversial leader out into the world to represent them.

From what I’ve observed, Japan is everything Donald Trump is not: collectivist, well-mannered and quite frankly, cool. Japanese society is built on deeply ingrained respectfulness. It is in the fabric of the very language, which has different verb conjugations according to the level of respect one wants to afford. Keeping a level head and participating in social norms so that societal peace is maintained is what has made a small, secluded island nation a cultural superpower. In that spirit, Donald Trump was received with polite skepticism.

There was a respectable crowd of about 100 people protesting in Shibuya. Many of their signs called voters to action, rather than attacking the president directly. Shinzo Abe may have catered to Trump’s love of golf and American cuisine, but the rest of Japan noted Trump’s arrival with little indication of emotion. I’m sure my Japanese peers, like my American ones, were waiting quietly for an international diplomacy gaffe that never happened. On his part, Abe indulged Trump in some American activities, but deftly deflected Trump’s insistences that the American-Japan trade balance be readdressed.

It wasn’t until Trump left that his Asia tour caused a stir in Japan. In South Korea, Trump attended a banquet which was also attended by a former “comfort woman,” Lee Yong-soo. “Comfort women” are women who were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese before and during World War II. In 2015, Japan and Korea reached an agreement on the contentious issue, a grievance from over half a century ago for which Japan apparently had not made full reparations.

Trump was photographed hugging and smiling with Lee, which served to further highlight her controversial attendance. For Japan, the atrocities have been laid to rest, but in Korea, survivors like Lee remind the country of crimes for which there is no restitution.

Perhaps Japan’s differing reactions to Trump’s visit to Tokyo and South Korea’s reception can be understood in expectations. They are aware that Trump is not an excellent diplomat, but they expected more sensitivity out of the country which bears most of the burden for protecting the world from North Korea.

Morgan Wood is a third-year student double majoring in art history and economics. She is currently studying abroad in Tokyo, Japan, and looks forward to returning to CWRU in the spring.