Do Japanese People Really Have a Low Opinion of Americans?

The relationship between Americans and Japanese has evolved since the end of WWII. Image: “Teahouse of the August Moon,” courtesy Wikimedia.

A recent article in American newspaper USA Today took an unusual slant when reporting on a new Pew Research survey comparing Japanese and American attitudes about each other.

USA Today's main takeaway of the Pew survey? “Japanese have low opinion of Americans.”

Pew Research's own in-depth summary of the results of the poll is almost the polar opposite of USA Today's interpretation:

About two-thirds of Americans trust Japan a great deal or a fair amount and three-quarters of Japanese say they trust the United States, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.

According to Pew Research, attitudes seem to have improved:

The animosity of the 1980s and 1990s, when U.S.-Japan relations were marked by a series of trade wars, has all but vanished. Just 8% of Americans cite that period of intense trade friction as the most important event in modern U.S.-Japan relations. The number of Americans calling Japanese trade practices unfair has fallen from 63% in 1989 to just 24% currently. More than half think that Japan’s trade policy toward the U.S. is fair.

In fact, Pew Research documents a previous 2014 survey indicating “overwhelming” support in Japan for greater economic ties with the United States, rather than China, soon to eclipse the US as the world's number one economic power:

Nearly eight-in-ten Japanese (78%) say it is more important to have strong economic connections with the U.S., while only 10% cite China. Young Japanese are more likely than their elders to back a deeper economic relationship with the U.S., but the preference for the U.S. among all age groups, and among all demographic subgroups in Japan, is still overwhelming.

The survey result USA Today chose to highlight in its headline here is more of a footnote Pew's news release:

On a personal level, Americans associate positive personality traits with the Japanese, but do not associate negative stereotypes with people in Japan. Americans overwhelmingly see Japanese as hardworking, inventive and honest.

The Japanese offer a more mixed assessment of Americans. A majority of Japanese voice the view that Americans are inventive, but half also say Americans are aggressive. And relatively few think of Americans as hardworking and honest.

The main conclusion of the Pew survey?

China looms large in the minds of both Americans and Japanese in their consideration of the U.S.-Japan relationship. Just 30% of Americans and 7% of Japanese trust China.

It's hard to determine way USA Today chose to zoom in on the supposed negative Japanese perceptions of Americans. There is the perception in Japan, according to the survey, that Americans are not honest or as hardworking as Japanese, even though Americans officially clock more hours than their Japanese counterparts according to the OECD.

However, there is quite a bit more to digest in the Pew Research survey. The summary can be read here.

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