Why They're 'Ah So' in Love with England; in Fact, the Japanese and the English Have So Much in Common

Article excerpt

Byline: MURRAY SAYLE

RUDYARD KIPLING, the poet of the Empire, was bowled over by Japan on his only visit here in 1892.

After the din and squalor of India, he felt that this set of rainy offshore islands were so clean, so polite, so disciplined.

'Your Jap is a plucky little chap,' Kipling wrote home. 'Under British officers they would make the finest troops east of Suez.' Today, more than a century later, the praise is now coming from the opposite direction with the Japanese nation seemingly in love with all things English.

Japan has gone England mad.

Everywhere you look, there are teenage boys who worship the England World Cup team and screaming girls (wearing David Beckham or Michael Owen shirts) swooning over their heroes. It's like Beatlemania all over again.

According to Tokyo's biggest sports shop, the only shirt more popular is Japan's.

Before the tournament began, a Japanese sports paper warned its readers: 'Beckham crippled.

World Cup in danger.' Then, after the England captain's foot recovered, it reported: 'Beckham fit. Cup goes ahead.' Japan sighed with relief.

Between Kipling and today's outpourings of mutual admiration, there was, of course, some unpleasantness.

During World War II, more than 9,000 British and Australian PoWs died while building the Burma-Thailand railway.

All told, 10,298 Britons died as prisoners of the Japanese.

Japan's brutal treatment may be bitterly remembered in Britain, but it is scarcely known at all in modern Japan.

In fact, there is a national amnesia about this period of history and Japanese children are not even taught about it in school.

But any bitterness lingering from World War II centres on memories of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and fire- stormed cities, which the Japanese (mistakenly) think Britain had no part in.

Instead, the Japanese see a Britain of romantic castles, picture-postcard villages, people dressed in Burberry and a Royal Family on friendly terms with their own emperor and their Oxford- educated crown prince and princess.

Of course this is an outdated image, but one which the British tourist industry wisely does nothing to dispel.

It is easy to see why these two island nations share an affinity - two countries with limited natural resources which have achieved wealth and global stature disproportionate to their size.

Also, two socially hierarchical countries committed to education, with a love for innovation and a belief in hard work. Two countries, each serving as America's strongest ally - one in the East, one in the West - and with the same ambiguous relationship with the Land of the Free.

And now football seems to be latest mutual passion, although the most popular sport in Japan is still baseball.

But the Japanese realise that baseball is not a world sport, unlike soccer.

Indeed, it is acceptance by the world, not just by its American nuclear partner, that modern Japan desperately aspires to.

Howard Baker, the U.S.

ambassador to Japan, is a former politician who often appears on Japanese TV, lecturing (in English) about security, war and politics.

He sounds distinctly like a governor-general.

On the other hand, his British equivalent, Sir Stephen Gomersall, is an avuncular career diplomat who charms viewers by speaking about friendship and culture in faultless Japanese. …