East is still east and west is still west, but the twain now meet-over a Big Mac

Robert Lewis November 15 1976

East is still east and west is still west, but the twain now meet-over a Big Mac

Robert Lewis November 15 1976

East is still east and west is still west, but the twain now meet-over a Big Mac

Robert Lewis

By now Japan’s Prime Minister Takeo Miki has learned that virtue in politics can be as perilous as vice. For his attempts to get to the bottom of the Lockheed bribery scandal, Miki found his leadership challenged from within his right-wing Liberal Democratic Party by those who feared that a Mr. Clean might hangout their own dirty laundry. If it was any consolation, before Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau left Japan last month he assured the Japanese leader privately that he thought Miki could survive the malcontents. For his part, Trudeau probably took wry satisfaction from the revelation during his stay in Tokyo, ironic in a Canadian context, that Miki was also in hot water for discussing the Lockheed affair on the telephone with a caller who purported to be a judge.

That Japan has its own full-blown political scandal, with a mini-judges affair, seems fitting for a nation that has adopted so many North American ways—including the determined pursuit of both affluent, and effluent, societies. True, almost 1,000 years of civilization separate us from the Japanese and they are many things that we are not: industrious, internationalist, orderly, culturally homogeneous, to name a few attributes. But superficially, the culture shock is not so much in the differences as in the similarities—the Madison Avenue-style advertising hype, the cachet of foreign brand names, the social costs of chasing the good life.

If those of us who accompanied the PM on his journey had spent less time in moving vehicles, racing between the staged “photo opportunities” of his visit, these impressions surely would have been less fleeting. But caught up in the official whirlwind of a short stay, what first-time visitors to Japan see is virtually all they get. What you get, first, is a sultry-voiced wakeup call, complete with background bird chirpings. In the early-morning daze of the first day, the visitor forgets about the Japanese technological miracle; in this case, the minor marvel of a computerized voice system triggered by dialing the desired wakeup times (0-7-3-0 = 7.30 a.m.). All of which makes the mumbled “thank you” ridiculous, if defensible.

Over imported Lipton tea in the Western-style New Otani Hotel, television’s commercial breaks come fast and furious, with a note of familiarity. There are pitches for Maxim coffee, Cadbury chocolates and Kentucky Fried “chicken with Coke,” as the young voices chant repeatedly in sync with the flashing images. Along crowded streets, teen-agers in “Big

John” blue jeans sway into the downtown McDonald’s and Dunkin Donut joints.

On television screens, game shows offer up the same greed-minded acquisitiveness that New York and Toronto have foisted on us all. One morning a group of mothers struggled madly against a clock to pull clothes on their children from a hefty pile of shirts, pants and sweaters on the studio floor. When the bell sounded, with the audience roaring, the children got to keep the clothes on their backs. That clearly delighted the mothers, but not some of the bawling tykes, who were traumatized by the razzmatazz.

The Japanese are not oblivious to where all of this is taking them. Efforts are being made to reduce the staggering pollution of the environment; in fact Canada is suggesting that Japan do more of its manufacturing in this country. People do worry that anglicisms are creeping into the Japanese vocabulary, that traditional culture and values are being eroded, that increased consumption of meat and soda pop is altering healthy diets.

One of the messages that Trudeau tried to sell the Japanese was that Canada is a somewhat different land than our neighbor to the south. By implication, he was saying that new approaches can be found to the problems of industrialization. But this thesis appeared to win even less acceptance in Japan than it does among the general populace at home. Take, for example, the students of Keio University

who are enrolled in a new Canadian studies program under Professor Viv Nelles, formerly of Toronto’s York University. A conversation in the quad with 15 of them suggested that few had any particular fascination with this country, let alone any perception that we are trying to avoid becoming a 51st state. “It’s very difficult to distinguish between Canada and the United States,” observed Mitsuo Kondo, 32, a post-grad student who has studied in the United States and is now an assistant in English language and history at Keio. “Canada,” added 22-year-old Etsuko Yamanouchi, “has to take time to become more independent of the United States. They owe so much to the States. . .”

These are views that are shared in Canada by people at all levels of society. What is overlooked, in both countries, is the fact that America Inc.’s traditional way of doing business around the world is fast coming to an end. Sparked by the Arab oil embargo, less developed nations have learned that they can—and must—extract higher prices from the have nations for their raw materials, which will mean higher prices for luxuries and necessities.

Trudeau told the Japanese that, in return for buying so many tape recorders, television sets and wrist watches, Canada wants to export more finished goods to Japan; that we don’t feel comfortable with a trade relationship in which we export only our coal, our ore and our rapeseed. Canadians and Japanese, however, both have to realize that the less endowed nations of the globe have even more justification for making those same demands of the industrialized democracies.

Trudeau has been selling that message with some effectiveness abroad, where his international Gallup poll runs ahead of his domestic ratings. In a thoughtful address at Keio U, the PM wondered rhetorically, “How can the majority of mankind, suffering as they do from hunger and malnutrition, be persuaded of the good faith of the balance, suffering as so many of them do from the effects of obesity? In country after country around the world,” Trudeau added, “we in the industrialized democracies are being watched and measured.”

My guess is that the message is not getting across at home. Trudeau may be cultivating the respect of the leadership in the Third World, but he is way ahead of a selfcentred electorate back home. What he needs to do now is to take his campaign to the Canadian people, to sell the need for sharing to them with the same vigor he has done abroad.