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US-Japan Relations: The View from Both Sides of the Pacific, Part II, The Media in US-Japan Relations: A Look at Stereotypes

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The cultural dimension of U.S.-Japan relations has been the sub­ject of fruitful academic studies by Akira Iriye, John Dower, and others. Unfortunately, until recently it has been difficult to find good materials on cultural relations appropriate for use in precolle­giate classrooms. To address this need, Gary Mukai and his team at SPICE have produced The Media in U.S.-Japan Relations: A Look at Stereotypes, the second of three innovative sets of curriculum materials in their series, U.S.-Japan Relations: The View From Both Sides of the Pacific.

The Media in U.S.-Japan Relations offers five well-designed and well-balanced lessons: “Images of the United States in Japan,” “Stereotypes of Blacks in Japan,” “Images of Japan in the United States,” “Japan in Hollywood,” and “Analyzing the Media.” The specific impetus for this series of lessons was mutual recriminations of the late 1980s and early 1990s, a period which saw trade friction, the rise of the yen to historic levels, and conspicuous Japanese investment in the U.S. Americans who were teaching in Japan at the time remember it as a trying period for race relations. While attempt­ing to help students see beyond the war of insults waged in the media between U.S. and Japanese politicians teachers also struggled to explain to them events like the Rodney King beating and the killing of a Japanese exchange student in Louisiana. Although touching upon many events of the past decade, the lessons in The Media in U.S.-Japan Relations remain relevant and inter­esting today. They include historical examples that predate this period, as well as lesser-known but significant events, such as the founding of an anti-racist organization by a Japan­ese family in Sakai.

The five lessons in The Media in U.S.-Japan Relations are usefully designed for practical implementation. Each lesson comes with a set of organizing questions, a concise introduction, a list of cognitive, affective, and skill objectives, a list of necessary materials, clear explanations of teaching procedures, and a set of primary and sec­ondary materials to be used in the lesson. Higher order thinking skills are emphasized throughout, and group work predominates. Perhaps the most attractive component of these lessons, from a stu­dent’s perspective, is the use of a variety of engaging primary sources, which include short articles, color slides (on an accompany­ing video cassette), numerous cartoons, and photocopies of movie posters.

All of this is provided in a relatively low tech format. One looks forward to the prospect of high tech offerings from SPICE in the future—CD ROMs, perhaps. However, since the vast majority of secondary teachers still have limited access to technology, current SPICE materials fill an immediate educational need.

Recent events underscore the necessity of classroom materials like The Media in U.S.-Japan Relations. While the belligerent rhetoric has gone the way of Japan’s “bubble economy,” cultural commen­tary during the U.S. television coverage of the recent Nagano Olympics was marred by misunderstandings and apparently deliber­ate attempts to exoticize Japanese culture, indicating the continued need for cultural sensitivity studies.