16 march 2017
RIAC experts explained how Russians and Japanese perceive each other
On March 16th, 2017, the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) held a second “City-breakfast” from the Urbi et Orbi series at the F.M. Dostoevsky library. The topic of the open lecture was "The image of Russia in Japan and the image of Japan in Russia."
Sergey Agafonov (Editor-in-chief of OGONYOK magazine) and Sergey Chugrov (Professor at the Department of International Journalism of MGIMO under the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Chief Editor of the magazine “Polis. Political Studies” and RIAC expert) explained to the audience how the perception of Russia in Japan, as well as the perception of Japan in Russia, have changed and how one could ensure communication between two states in “one language”.
In his presentation, Sergei Chugrov expounded the results of a study conducted under the supervision of RIAC - the working paper "The Image of Russia in Japan and the Image of Japan in Russia", which examines the key components of the mutual images of both countries.
The expert stated that among Russians the most common image associations of Japan were: a strong economy, high technologies, rich traditions, history and culture, beautiful nature, etc. Sergei Chugrov drew a particular attention to the fact that 23% of respondents consider Japan as a country that should be feared. 79% of the Russian participating to the poll are interested in Japanese cuisine, 78% in architecture and 72% in tea ceremonies.
The expert paid a special attention to the respondents' answers to the question "Who was the main responsible for the Second World War`s unleashing?" If in 2003, 12% of the surveyed Russians blamed Japan for this, in 2014 the share of people sharing this point of view decreased by 2%. In 2015, 6% of Russians participants believed that Japan adopted an unfriendly attitude towards Russia, but almost no one believed that Tokyo could actually turn to be aggressive.
According to the survey, most Russians believe that Russia and Japan have good or normal relations. At the same time, the absolute majority of respondents (70%) is against the transfer of the southern Kuril Islands to Japan. But it is interesting that the public opinion still considers the conclusion of a peace agreement as a major aspect of the development of further relations.
According to the expert, "the mysterious Russian soul" allows the combination of such conflicting aspirations, such as the conclusion of a peace treaty, the import of Japanese technology and the preservation of the southern Kuril Islands as part of Russia.
Sergei Chugrov noted that compromise is the key in terms of relations with Japan, this is why he suggested not to enter into disputes with Tokyo over history and ethnography, as each side has its own convincing arguments.
Analysing the image of Russia in Japan, the expert pointed out that only about 12% of the respondents have sympathy toward Russians, and 82% do not like Russia. On the contrary, the attitude of the Japanese toward the United States is totally the opposite.
The main reason for the Japanese's negative attitude toward Russia is considered to be the national historical memory of the Japanese. According to them, the USSR entered into the war in 1945 and has violated the neutrality pact. They also remember the USSR and the incidents with Japanese prisoners of war.
More generally speaking, Japanese love Russian culture, nevertheless, it seems to be impossible to radically change the political situation using "soft power". The expert came to the conclusion that it is inevitable to establish a mutual perception.
Sergei Agafonov commented on the statistics and concluded that the relationship with Japan is unlikely to radically improve since Russia retains an "imperial approach" and is not ready yet to compromise.
The historical "offence" of Japan is linked to the fact that the USSR took the Southern Kuril Islands after Japan capitulated, in that sense, the USSR has "violated the winner's code". Sergei Agafonov believes that the form of submission of information in the media indicates that the Russian side is not ready to consider the situation around the South Kuril in details.
The expert also noted that Russia needs to understand the Japanese way of thinking, which is characterised by a high degree of social responsibility. Neither side is yet mature enough regarding the disagreement to promote relations. Without the willingness of the countries to compromise, the next step towards rapprochement seems to be unrealistic.