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HOME > 16th JAMCO Online International Symposium > Discussion 3: The Image of Nations Formed by the TV Media

JAMCO Online International Symposium

16th JAMCO Online International Symposium

January to March, 2007

Images of Foreign Countries Projected on Television of China, Korea, and Japan

Discussion 3: The Image of Nations Formed by the TV Media

Hiroko Nojiri
A free-lance journalist based in Berlin

In March 2004, then State Secretary Jürgen Crobog of the German Foreign Office held a meeting with Berlin-based Japanese journalists at the Japanese-German Center Berlin, in time for the impending start of “Germany Year in Japan.” He spoke to the effect that “Germany hopes to devote time to some extent and create opportunities to present to the Japanese the state of Germany as it is today, in the same way France and Italy get exposure. Towards this aim, I would like to ask for your advice and ideas.” If my memory serves me correctly, we suggested that research be conducted into what demand can be found in Japan (by Japanese organizations such as Dentsu), and also into presentation not only of Germany’s traditional culture but also its youth culture, fashion, etc.

Although we cannot tell how our suggestions and advice that involved a large number of German organizations and people contributed to Germany Year in Japan, the programs and events organized as part of this project show a great diversity that very likely stimulated great interest among both youths and older citizens. (* This writer has not been able to experience Germany Year in Japan personally, due to residence in Germany.)

Underlying the German motivation to organize this special year is the absence of both tension and excitement in bilateral relations with Japan, along with the absence of problems between the two countries. This means that Germany has a presence in the Japanese mindset, but nothing more. It is not a country that is perceived with much interest. The same applies for the German perception of Japan. Neither country has strong interest in the other. This is well represented in state visits and other official tours by politicians. Due to the absence of friction between Germany and Japan, visits by government leaders do not extend beyond state protocol. Germany appears to have also been stimulated to organize the project by the success of “France Year” and “Italy Year” held previously in Japan. This writer was under the impression that the country was greatly exasperated by the fact that France and Italy are immensely popular among Japanese of all ages and was prompted to take action quickly.

As research conducted by Ms. Yumiko Hara proves, it appears to be extremely shortsighted and naïve to think that organizing a special event or campaign — even if it is a project that extends over one year — will bring change to the image people have of a country. This writer believes that the image of a country undergoes change only gradually, at least over a quarter-century, or even half-century, unless something with extraordinary and powerful impact takes place.

According to Ms. Hara, the German side seems to believe that Germany Year in Japan was not very successful because it did not bring change in the German image. However, this writer believes there had been substantial success. First of all, the study shows a surprising 8% of the respondents knew of the Year prior to its opening. This figure is very large. When “Japan Year in Germany” similar to the Germany Year was held throughout Germany from January 1999 to September 2000, how many Germans knew of the project before its opening? Although figures for comparison are unfortunately not available, this writer is under the impression that the figure must have been less than 1% or even closer to zero.

The fact that the percentage doubled to 16% in the study after opening of Germany Year is undoubtedly a success. On the other hand, people who knew of Japan Year in Germany after its closing never grew in number beyond the range of people who were interested in Japan in the first place. The exception may be Düsseldorf, which has a relatively large Japanese expatriate population, where Bon Odori and other special events were organized by the Japanese community and attracted popular attention by involving local citizens.

During Germany Year in Japan, TV programs on Germany numbered 756, totaling 653 hours and 38 minutes in airtime. Of these programs, 32 were on the Germany Year project, covering air time of 21 hours and 14 minutes. Although these figures appear to be substantial, the data that would have been useful would not be concerning programs related to Germany broadcast in 2002 but the number and airtime for TV programs related to France and Italy for an average year and the change in these figures during France Year and Italy Year. This writer would like to know how much broadcasting there had been for events related to these projects. What are the figures for Japan-related programs in Germany for an average year? It is regrettable that there is no data for the change in airtime during Japan Year in Germany, as well as whether related programs were broadcast.

It appears that recognition of Germany Year in Japan had been improved substantially by Japanese media, particularly television. Although this writer cannot say much on Japan Year in Germany due to lack of attention to the project at that time, there is no recollection of broadcast of special TV programs for Japan Year during that period. Although there have been sporadic comments on specific special events published in newspapers, there were no prominent news articles on the special year in general. For this reason, this writer found it difficult to understand that there had been some 400 events and programs held in Germany over the span of more than one year, even if Japan Year was mentioned in one location or another.

Restricting this discussion to TV media, programs aimed at improving recognition of special events organized for specific countries (such as Germany Year or France Year) and programs featuring specific countries are not expected to contribute immensely to development or change in perception of a country, as mentioned earlier. First, there is knowledge and perception of a country that the viewer has before such an event. The more knowledge there is, information provided by TV programs that total several hundred hours a year will account to only a small percentage of total knowledge of the viewers. If the image of a country is firmly fixed, it is all the more difficult to change it.

Regarding program content, it is possible that a fixed image or perception that the viewers already have may be reinforced by such programs, be it with movies or field reports on the people, rather than shedding light to a new aspect of the country. In order to spotlight the difference of the target nation compared to one’s home country, emphasis is very often placed on the exotic or on conventional photos and expressions describing the country, so as not to betray expectations of the would-be traveler. Also, the program producer may be inclined to emphasize what the viewer already knows. Underlying this may be the old German saying that “people do not see what they do not know.” When a person does not have any knowledge on the subject, the person is likely to ignore or dismiss it, because of lack of comprehension of the subject matter’s uniqueness or significance. Therefore, the viewer is likely only to reaffirm existing knowledge and to skip or miss information that is new. Interest in the new is not motivated.

The perceived image of a foreign country very often consists of a wide variety of aspects. The main components of such an image may be the country’s geography, culture and lifestyle of its people. More recently, best-selling products from the country, as well as the state of its economy, are believed to have tremendous impact.

For instance, Germans regarded Japan to be extremely exotic and difficult to understand until around 1970. The Japanese language was believed to be a special language that Germans could not master. (Incidentally, this writer recalls that there have been Japanese in Japan who argued that the Japanese language is special and cannot be acquired by foreigners.) And, people who study the Japanese language were regarded as eccentric. The Japanese image at that time was a nation of propriety, Mount Fuji and geishas, as well as sea vessels and cheap cameras mimicking German models. Even when Japan surpassed Germany in GDP, Japan continued to be described as incomprehensible, not withstanding special features in newspapers and magazines, as well as on TV.

Drastic change came probably with the introduction of the Walkman, which drew tremendous popularity among young people. Germans finally understood that the Japanese do not only make copycat products but can also create unique and excellent products. It was at such time that the perception of Japanese goods began to change. The image of cheap Japanese products was replaced by Japanese cameras regarded as some of the best in the world, and many Germans welcomed Japanese-made audio and video equipment. When Japanese cars made their debut in the German market, there was little concern for their quality. The quality level was assumed to be high, and the question shifted to design and to the image of the Japanese car.

Today, many Japanese cars are environmentally-friendly vehicles backed by cutting-edge technologies and are regarded products that do not betray consumer expectations. In the automobile satisfaction tests conducted in Germany every year, Japanese cars have dominated the top 10 ranking for the past several years. Japan is now associated with high technology and is viewed as a tough rival for Germany. The video games of various sizes, including Tamagocchi that triggered an explosive boom, are not unrelated to the formation of Japan’s image among young people. Fans of Japanese anime and manga continue to grow in number. A boy band with the strange name “Tokyo Hotel” attracts screaming female fans wherever they go. Crowds gather to listen to Japanese drum performances. There are Japanese film festivals, and Japanese culture is no longer restricted to Noh and kabuki. Sushi has also become commonplace.

The number of Japanese language learners who reportedly numbered around 400 nationwide in 1980 has grown to 5000 today. The number of students grew rapidly around 1990. Today, Japanese is taught not only at universities and other specialized educational institutions but also at high schools as well. In view of the fact that Japan has succeeded in penetrating German society over time, it should be clear that a special project such as Japan Year lacks the power and influence to change the image, although it may contribute in disseminating and deepening understanding toward Japan. The same can be said for TV programs related to such events and related to Japan. In both such cases, people will not watch the programs or visit such events unless they are interested, regardless of the volume of special events and programs exposed to the people. Changing the image of a country is no easy task.

The reason why Germans feel that Germany Year in Japan did not bring a change in image of the country or that the Japanese image of Germany should have improved to some extent is the positive image that France and Italy enjoy in Japan, compared to Germany. Then, would the special year projects by these countries have been any different from those organized by Germany? Would the Japanese media have allocated more time for programs related to these countries? This writer does not believe so.

The greatest impact actually comes from the cultures of the two countries that came in the form of products. First of all, there is fashion that the Japanese love. Products from Christian Dior and Yves St. Laurent that had been the target of admiration, as well as other luxury products, were coveted by the Japanese. Pierre Cardin established itself as a popular brand in Japan, offering stylish clothes at affordable prices. Every Japanese knows that they are French designers. There are also stories of Japanese forming queues in front of Louis Vuitton shops in Tokyo and Paris in order to buy the latest products.

These products are being recognized by young people as very attractive items that can be purchased if one works hard. Next comes cuisine, another Japanese favorite. The term “gourmet” has assimilated into the Japanese language. Sophisticated French cuisine and exclusive French restaurants have long been associated with luxury. There is also French wine. There are many Japanese who purchased Bordeaux, learning that red wine is good for one’s health.

Offering outstanding products and items that stimulate Japanese interest and making them love the country of origin; making the Japanese more interested in the country: these are the French style. The same applies for Italy. Italy also excels in both fashion and cuisine. There are reportedly more than 1000 Italian restaurants in Tokyo alone. And, Italy also offers delicious wines.

Germany also has much to offer. Western classical music has fans worldwide, and much of it has been created by Bach, Beethoven and other German composers. Unfortunately, however, Symphony No. 9 has become so firmly established in Japan that very few Japanese associate the composition with the Germany today. It is clear that it has been so widely known for so long a time that it no longer has a novelty factor.

The interesting find in the ICFP-Japan research is that Germany is associated immediately with “automobiles,” “beer” and “World War II.” Certainly, Germany has cars that stand out both in performance and styling, with the Porsche the admiration of young man around the world. This probably is backed by detailed reporting and outstanding advertising. Beer is listed among the top probably because the Japanese are beer lovers. The country name Germany probably inspired them to think of Germans drinking beer with delight and motivated them to drink beer as well. The reason for the association of Germany with World War II clearly stands from the Japanese media’s penchant to write on the theme of “World War II and Germany.” When this writer was a news reporter, the newspaper’s editorial department and journalists at other dailies used to treat this theme as a special topic. Very often, news on the neo-Nazis linked with this theme was reported immediately, even for minor incidents. In the United Kingdom, for example, the number of TV programs related to World War II continues to be large. With Germans appearing in such programs usually playing the Nazi bad guys, it is said that quite a few British citizens still believe that Germans today are Nazis. The scandal raised by the British Prince Harry a couple of years ago, when he appeared at a costume party wearing the Nazi swastika, resulting in intense media coverage of the incident, it is still fresh in our minds. There is no doubt that the British immediately associate the Germans with World War II.

As for the Germans, TV documentaries and articles in newspapers and magazines repeatedly cover the subject to this day with continuing intensity. In some instances, the incidents are reported as if they occurred yesterday. However these broadcasts are aimed at not forgetting the shameful German experience during the war and never repeating it again. Of course, there are people who say that it is time for such broadcasts to be discontinued. Yet, the majority voice is that considering such thing is itself wrong. The attitude is different in the UK. In the case of the British, such media coverage is inclined to be employed to maintain a sense of superiority over Germany. In the case of Japan, there are suspicions that it is being used to compare Japan’s responsibility during the war with that of Germany, suggesting that Japan was not the only one that started the war. However, it is the fact that there are also programs that show Germany’s postwar action as a positive example of what action should be taken in the aftermath of war.

“Sausages,” which vary widely in Germany, may also be food that the Japanese like. “Soccer” is a national sport in Germany, but cannot be associated directly with the country, because it is not uniquely German. There is another reason why the German image has not been impressive. The Germans themselves did not like Germany for a long period of time. The sense of shame and guilt over World War II did not allow Germans to have pride in themselves. The strong feeling refusing not to be associated with Germans who committed such atrocities during the war became stronger with the student movement of 1968. People who brandished the national flag raised concerns of ultra nationalism. This changed for the first time that summer. At the World Cup, a large number of soccer fans waved the German flag with lighthearted zeal. It was no longer terribly shameful to waive the national flag. German society has recognized this with a sense of relief and joy, and Germans are slowly starting to like their own country.

People who don’t like themselves are not liked by others. That is the reason why Germany was not liked by others. This may change in the future. It is possible that the German image may undergo drastic transformation. According to a survey, 90% of the travelers who visited Germany for the World Cup said they would like to visit Germany again. Mr. Tatsuichi Kaneko, a Japanese sports journalist, wrote in the Asahi Shimbun dated July 26, 2006, that “Germany had been overwhelmingly the very country that I did not wish to visit until several months ago. Having stayed in Frankfurt since late May to watch the World Cup tournament, Germany rose to the very country that I would like most to visit once again.”

There is no doubt that the television is an effective tool in developing the image of a country. However, it is simply one stone tile in a mosaic work of art, although it is a large tile at that. It is rational to view Germany Year in Japan as just one such tile. The image of a country comprises of many elements, but it does not mean that the content of TV programming does not hold great significance. This writer believes that a positive image can be formed slowly and over a long period of time with a large number of programs that provide a balanced outlook, depicting the country accurately.

Hiroko Nojiri

A free-lance journalist based in Berlin

Born in 1942. Moved to Germany with her expatriated family in 1958, where she entered a local upper secondary school. Entered Berlin Institute of Technology in 1963. Returned to Japan with her family in 1964 to enter the Faculty of Liberal Arts, International Christian University, Tokyo. In 1967 moved to Germany to work as a curator of Berlin National Museum of Art. Was conferred a Ph.D. degree by Berlin Free University in 1990. Worked as a reporter with Nihon Keizai Shimbun, Berlin since 1990. A free-lance journalist since 2002.

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