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What’s in a name?

March 24, 2009

The Japanese media are not short of national pride, not by a long way.  So why then are they so conflicted about showing it?

To give an idea of how uneasy they feel about the whole idea of being proud to be Japanese, consider this – throughout the World Baseball Classic, the national team was referred to as 侍ジャパン (“Samurai Japan”).  If that appears as mere squiggles on your screen, or you can see but can’t read it, I should point out that the media has, at every opportunity, used not the Japanese words Nihon or Nippon, but the English word Japan.  Don’t you think that’s a little strange?

Let’s deal quickly with that Samurai bit first.  Why the baseball team needed this cringeworthy, cheesy nickname in the first place is beyond me.  Though this isn’t unprecedented – the national football team is inexplicably always known by the following formula – Manager’s name + English word ‘Japan’ = media-friendly label.  Hence in recent years there’s been ‘Zico Japan’, ‘Osim Japan’, and now ‘Okada Japan’.  At least during games commentators do occasionally use the national language to refer to the national team.

And that’s what puzzles me most – this habit of referring to one’s nation by using a foreign language.   Can you imagine if BBC commentators peppered their inane chatter with references to ‘Angleterre’ or ‘Anglija’?  What’s the point of trying to stir up all those patriotic feelings if you then diminish the whole thing by removing the very name by which your country is known by its own inhabitants?

The Japanese often use English to give things a veneer of instant cool.  It’s used in random meaningless dollops in advertising to indicate sophistication (unless you actually speak English).  You will see not a single Japanese car with a Japanese name, for instance.

But surely giving your country a foreign name for the sake of ‘cool’ is a step too far?

What surprises me is the number of Japanese people I’ve mentioned this too who hadn’t even noticed this happening, and those who had noticed are not in the slightest bothered by it.

I can’t explain it, but I do know that if you attempted to summon the patriotism of Englishmen under a banner reading “Inghilterra”, you may as well ask a cat to fetch a stick.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. remora permalink
    April 2, 2009 2:08 pm

    between the years 1807 and 1815 (-ish) England,Spain and Portugal stood against the French Tyrant Dictator Napoleon..I have said before, and I will repeat..(’till me last breath)

    It’s better to bibamus pro salute patriae [rather than] pro patria mori.

    The British and the Japanese people,are both small island nations,small players in the Global Scheme of Geopolitics and as such, we share a common line of temperament and inclusivity.

    Humility and a tendency to Understatement plus a huge dollop..nay Abundance of Self-Deprecation is our line..

    remora

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