by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

MINNEAPOLIS — The Japanese, we are told, don’t want our cars. They don’t want our electronics. They don’t want our work habits.

But they do want our Super Bowl.

That was pretty clear this week, when I spotted no less than 30 Japanese workers from a single Japanese TV station, all here for the big game. I noticed them racing around the Metrodome, seeking interviews with players. I noticed them lugging video equipment, often running from one location to the next, the heavy steel units slamming on their shoulders.

I also noticed something else: they stayed together, and they did not mingle. During the coffee breaks and the often long waits outside the interview ballrooms, the Japanese collected in a tight group, almost never speaking with any outside media.

Because of this, I went to speak with them.

“Where are you guys from?”

It is the most simple of opening lines, but they seemed to be taken aback.

“Tokyo. Nippon TV,” one of them said.

He pulled out a small pin and handed it to me. The others awaited my next question.

“Is the Super Bowl a big event in Japan?”

“Yes. Big. Very popular.”

“What time will it be on there?”

“At 8 o’clock Monday morning.”

“Eight o’clock? Will anybody actually stay at home to watch it?”

They looked amongst themselves, mumbled a few things, shook their heads.

“No,” said one, “everyone go to work.” Recent events fuel bad feelings

The sentiment in this country is that workaholic Japan has recovered well enough from World War II, thank you, it’s time America paid attention to itself. There was the recent Asian trip by President Bush and the Big Three automakers, which fueled anti-Japanese sentiment when a supposed trade agreement was denied by Japanese officials.

There was the senior Japanese lawmaker who suggested American workers are
“lazy” and “illiterate” — which rightfully angered millions in this country. There was the recent Los Angeles county decision to cancel a $122 million rail-car contract with a Japanese company and award it to an American firm.

There was Lee Iaccoca’s combustive speech which blasted Japan for unfair trade practices. There are companies now offering substantial cash rewards for employees who buy American cars.

Why, even baseball got into the act this week, when a group headed by Nintendo Co. of Japan tried to buy the Seattle Mariners. That bid — despite the woeful finances of the Mariners — seems doomed to rejection, because baseball does not smile on foreign ownership, particularly now.

In short, we are just shy of all-out Japan bashing these days — enough that visitors from the East can feel it when they arrive.

“Yes, I have noticed it,” said Joe Satomi, the liaison for Nippon TV.
“You hear it everywhere. In Japan as well. We are told there that America hates us.” Our cultures have connections

And yet, isn’t it interesting? A country we accuse of ignoring our products sure has a thing for our culture. Tonight’s Super Bowl? The Japanese will tape it and watch it — and they don’t even play football! American movies are enormous hits over there. Blue jeans, sneakers, baseball caps, Madonna — all popular exports. A recent TV news report showed a Japanese rock band whose lead singer wore ripped pants and dyed his hair blond. Who was he imitating?

“The people in Japan like American things very much,” Satomi said. “What is happening between us is the government. It’s not right. A lot of Japanese society is not good, I think. Too much work. But some of American society is not good either. It is both our faults.”

And yet, it didn’t keep him from talking to me, or me him. It didn’t keep us from liking one another as people. I asked if he planned on taking back any

souvenirs — something American reporters almost never do from a Super Bowl
— and he pointed to a colleague named Tak and laughed. “He brings home whole sack. He’s like Santa Claus.”

Cold Wars aren’t good for anyone. We finally got past Russia and now, having dominated Iraq, we seem to be in need of an enemy. Is Japan next? We obviously have shared interests, Americans enjoy traveling there, Japanese love coming here, taking home the souvenirs. And yet a little hatred goes a long way. I watched the Japanese group go off by itself and wondered if all this bashing wasn’t part of the reason they didn’t mix in.

A shame. What is going on is an economic thing, it can be handled between governments and by adjusted buying habits. But starting to see red when we see Japanese people doesn’t seem necessary or worthy of this country. From the Super Bowl to the automobile, America can export many great things.

Hatred shouldn’t be one of them.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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