Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

Yesterday's discussions opened with a speech by Murata-sensei about the US. Here are some of my notes.

His main point was that the Japanese do not understand the US and should study more before making assumptions and decisions about the US.

There are notes that I took during the talk. Some of the figures and statements may have been misheard. If anyone has better stats or knows the sources of these stats, please let me know.

There are basically three ways to look at the strength of a nation. It's military force, the economy and the values. Values include information and culture. The US clearly the military leader, is 1/4 of the world economy, 80-90% of the Net is still in English and Hollywood is 75% of the world cinema market.

Bush has shifted a great deal from his original position of focused alliances and not sending troops to a "coalition of the willing and able" and sending troops.

Before Bush there was a great deal of focus on the Blue Team/Red Team (Anti-China/Pro-China). You rarely hear these terms these days.

The Japanese talk a lot about American Neo-Conservatism without really understanding it. The Japanese don't realize that it's specific term referring to people like Leo Strauss.

US nationalism, unlike most any other country is focused on the political system and system of government which makes it quite unique.

The US is quite religious. (not sure if I got these numbers right) 72% of Muslims polled think religion is "important" whereas 85% of Americans thought religion was "important".

18% of people in a poll thought they they were "Religious Right Wing". 12% of Americans are African-Americans. Approximately 9% of Japanese are Soka Gakkai which back the Komeito Party. His point was that even at 9% the Komeito Party is able to exert a great deal of influence over policy in Japan and this shows how powerful a force religion is in US politics.

Some people clump the neo-cons together with the religious right, but that's not very accurate. The neo-con's are rather elitist and focused on foreign policy and military issues. Most religious right are populist and more concerned with guns, religion and domestic issues.

There are approximately 6 million Jews in the US, approximately the same as the population of Israel. However, most Japanese over-estimate the influence that Jews have on US politics.

There are around 5 million Muslims in France and Germany compared to 60 million total population putting them at around 6-7% of the population. This affects their differences in opinion about the Middle East.

The US thinks there is a great deal of anti-semitism, whereas the EU and Japan feel that the US is too pro-Israel.

In a recent European poll about who was the greatest threat to world peace, 59% said Israel. Second place was a tie between the US, Iraq and Iran.

He felt that the Bush administration was changing in a positive way to adapt to the current issues.

Many well known people in Europe predicted that such a diverse country as the US would never be able to conduct global diplomacy or become a super-power because of the lack of culture, diplomatic tradition and diversity. They were obviously wrong.

If Japan today at the power that the US had, would Japan be as humble as the US is today? Historically, military might was abused during WWII and during the bubble, Japan abused its economic power. Therefore, the US is handling its power better than Japan would. China is still not ready to wield super-power. The only other country that MIGHT be able to handle itself is the UK.

Regarding the US/Japan relationship. it is asymmetrical and regardless of what the Japanese think they are not equal. There is nothing in Japan's power that will reverse the relationship regardless how well Japan does. The only chance that it would change is if there is an internal failure in the US system. This asymmetry is understood logically by Japan, but not emotionally and causes a great deal of frustration. One risk is that even if Bush stays for another term, Powell will probably leave, taking Armitage. There will be no obvious Japan expert on the team. Also, there is no obvious Japan expert on the Democratic side either. This could hurt relations between the two countries.

The Japanese understanding of the US is shallow. Most Japanese law students haven't even read the US constitution. Most of Japan's understanding of the US is economic or cultural.

"People who know only one country could not even understand their own country."

Japan is maybe lucky because the bubble burst at the end of the cold war. There was a risk that Japan could be cast as the next enemy, but the new weaker Japan did not become a target.

People complain that the US has too much power, but if it had total power, it would also be able to control the UN, which it does not.

The EU looks at the US and Middle East as immature nations which have not been able to separate the Church and the State. Europe had many bloody years of history to achieve this and the US and Islam are still coming to terms with this.


One of the first impressions you get when you first move to Japan is how ill-informed the Japanese are about the United States, how many bizarre stereotypes they hold and how much downright bigotry there is just beneath the surface.

But after living in Japan a while, you start to get more sensitised to things in the U.S. you didn't notice before, and you realize that Americans have pretty much the same faults as the Japanese.

The lack of religion in Japan is definitely one of the most refreshing things about living here. But it would be a mistake to say that U.S. foreign policy is due to the lack of separation of church and state. Rather, you might say that the values of the people are influenced by religion, and the values influence foreign policy. And those values are pretty much general moral values that are shared by many people around the world, religious or not.

People looking at the U.S. from the outside put too much importance on superficial references to religion. These are for the most part verbal tics, things you do because it's part of the culture, and things politicians do because a portion of their constituency needs to hear it, and the portion that doesn't need to hear it won't hold it against them.

I've nothing to really add, but it is both frightening and enlightening to me to 1) realize how the nation I live in, and thus myself because I live here, is seen and 2) to realize how limited my own thinking may be, despite attempt to broaden my knowlegde of other people.

That's a good point about confusion of neocons with the Christian right. The two groups are allied so they appear to be of one mind.

"The Japanese talk a lot about American Neo-Conservatism without really understanding it. The Japanese don't realize that it's specific term referring to people like Leo Strauss"

Leo Strauss was NOT a 'Neo-Conservative' whatever that means.Whoever uses that term has not even read what Strauss wrote with the care that he deserves!
For accurate information on Leo Strauss go here:

how about korea.... 50% christian....they're like the irish of the east.

korean americans only seem to have their negative aspects amplified. yet a corean canadian is as gentle and nice as a lamb.

end communication.

Tamejiro: What a ridiculous generalization. What are you basing it on? Your contact with hundreds and hundreds of Korean immigrants? And what exactly are Korean negative aspects? Where in your scheme of things do Korean-Japanese fall. ;-) You know, the fourth generation ones with the Japanese names and the alien registration cards.

Sounds like this was a very interesting lecture! What a pleasant surprise that a Japanese was telling other Japanese these things. I get so very tired of encountering all the popular stereotypes most people here have about my motherland. This is not to say that things would be any easier for a Japanese national living in the US, but I sure do wish I had 100 Yen for every time I've been asked if everyone in my family owned a gun/went to church every day/was in the army/voted for bush/hate arabs/etc. etc. etc.

This would be a fascinating conference to attend given the state of current events. For those outside the US (or inside for that matter) interested on getting a glimpse into the conservative minority far right there are quite a few sites out there. is one of the more scary/entertaining that comes to mind. If you are inclined to join & post to this site, please note that does not tolerate dissent and frequently removes posts/bans users that do not support their conservative views. ie..prepare to get the smackdown.