Japanese Newspaper Representations of Australia 1970-1996

By Tada, Masayo | Journal of Australian Studies, September 2000 | Go to article overview

Japanese Newspaper Representations of Australia 1970-1996


Tada, Masayo, Journal of Australian Studies


In the past three decades a closer relationship between Australia and Japan has officially been pursued, with both governments referring positively to closeness in recent years. This essay discusses Australia-Japan relations in the 1970s, 80s and 90s, decades which have witnessed significant political changes in both societies relating to national identity. Analysis of Japanese newspaper representations of Australia offers not only a different perspective on the relationship between the two countries but also an insight into its key characteristics. The specific foci of representations of Australia are, in the 1970s, abundant national resources, in the 1980s tourism, and in the 1990s an atmosphere of freedom, each of which has a link to Australia's natural environment. At the same time, these foci reflect Japan's specific national interest in Australia, with the target shifting from economic objects in the 1970s and 1980s to so-called Western characteristics like individualism in the 1990s.

Understanding people's perceptions of other cultures is increasingly complex. Notwithstanding the long-established discourse of power relations based on racism operative in the world, tolerance of other cultures has ostensibly become more socially accepted in both Japan and Australia. But while explicit racism has become something negative, it tends to exist implicitly in many aspects of a society. Racism has been a considerable obstacle to good relations between Australia and Japan since the late nineteenth century. However, in the post-war era, when economy is replacing race as a new way of estimating a country's power, economic relations between the two countries have become dramatically more significant. The old opposition -- Australia as the West versus Japan as the East -- is now being actively broken down. This process has been reflected in new policies in both countries, such as multiculturalism in Australia in the 1970s, and internationalisation in Japan in the 1980s. Since these changes, the barrier of racism is less visible, but nevertheless seems to remain.

Economic relations between the two countries have developed since the 1950s, and were given further assurance through the Commerce Agreement of 1957. Japan became the most important market for Australian goods in the late 1960s, exceeding Britain. Interdependent trade-based relations were challenged by a series of conflicts in the 1970s, resulting from differences in interpretation of contracts between the two countries. It was felt, particularly in Australia, that to consolidate the relationship, mutual understanding should be discussed; several agreements and treaties have subsequently been signed. In the 1980s a stronger yen rapidly increased Japanese tourism and investment in Australia. Although this boom has since slowed, following the collapse of Japan's overheated stock and real estate markets in the early 1990s, relations between the two countries remain economically and politically significant. The Australia-Japan partnership was described by the respective prime ministers as 'a relationship of unprecedented quality' in May 1995.(1)

Notwithstanding positive official comments on relations, the depth of the relationship still seems to be in question. McCormack puts it this way: `despite its apparent warmth, the relationship remains very pragmatically based, and liable to change'.(2) While Japanese images of Australia are overtly favourable, they tend to be based on quite limited information about certain aspects of the country. Studies of Japanese images of Australia between the 1970s and 1990s suggest that the Japanese do not have distinctive images of the national character of Australians, except for the White Australia policy. When Japanese describe Australia, they tend to nominate words relating to the natural environment, such as `vast land', `koala' and `kangaroo'(3) without employing words representing human beings. Japanese images of Australians are, therefore, a `heterostereotype of white-Western nations'. …

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