Japan in Shanghai

Time for a confession: I’ve loved all the things Japanese in Shanghai while I was there.

Of course, Japan and China are tightly linked together. In all manner of ways: historically, culturally, (geo)politically, economically – and usually, it’s the bad stuff that hits the media. The rows (admittedly, across East-Asia, not just with China) when a Japanese PM visits Yasukuni shrine. The disagreement on the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands. And really every time that Japan or a Japanese politician does something that doesn’t agree with its neighbours.

But: it isn’t all bad stuff. In fact, Japan is probably the most present foreign influence in Shanghai (this is probably different across China, and Japan’s influence is likely to be less away from the East Coast). It’s everywhere. And I doubt Chinese consumers are always aware of the fact that a certain brand, product or company is even Japanese (though possibly I should give them more credit)

Most obvious are all the Japanese restaurants in the city. Anything you’d like you can eat: of course sushi and sashimi, but there are tons of ramen restaurants, Japanese curry, and I also found okonomiyaki and takoyaki. All the major chains are here: from Saizeriya to Yamazaki bakery and from Ippudo ramen to Yoshinoya. And for good prices – or at least, much better prices than at home so I’ve filled up on my Japanese food cravings for a while. They’re popular with the Chinese too: often the restaurants were very busy.

There’s more Japanese food: in the few supermarkets I visited there were a lot of Japanese products on the shelves. Typically Japanese food (like the curry packets or instant noodles) but also lots and lots of choice in sweets and chocolate. Again, good news for my regular need for some Pocky’s.

In retail, the perspective is the same. And I also think some of these brands have fairly successfully re-branded themselves as non-Japanese. That is, it’s not visible much that a certain brand is a Japanese brand – the ads are clearly focused on Chinese, or use Caucasian models (as is the case for Uniqlo for example).  Other products do use Japanese words and characters a lot: it’s almost as if there’s been no effort at all to market their product to a different audience – which is the case a lot for the candies and sweets.

In the various galleries and museums I visited there were often a lot of Japanese artists and designers featured. That they are also popular was demonstrated by the massive crowd at the Kusama Yayoi exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art.

So, what is really happening in the China-Japan relationship? They are clearly economically dependent on each other so how does this reflect on what people think?

When I mentioned or spoke about this to Chinese people I met I got the impression that for the younger generation Japan is often an example of how to organize a country: wealthy, clean, and organized. Several Chinese people I know are learning Japanese: whether out of personal interest, or because they feel it will increase their future career opportunities.

The bad stuff is, of course, there too: the memorial for the Nanjing massacre was renovated several years ago and now offers testimony to the drama that occurred at Nanjing in 1937 at the hands of the Japanese army. Unfortunately, for the second time I was unable to actually see the exhibit myself (this time I found myself in front of a closed memorial; the other time it was under renovation) so that is still on my list of things to do when I’m next back in Nanjing.

Of course, most of these examples are anecdotal (I’m sure there’s research about this out there) but maybe, if it were (more) up to the younger generation, the Sino-Japan relationship might not be in such dire straits.

A quick google already revealed some research on this of course: this is a link to the Genron China – Japan public opinion poll results of August 2013, which looks at how people from one of these countries perceive the other. Not surprisingly, after all the problems in the bilateral relationship, the disapproval rates are pretty high….

Also, this Pew research of last summer has interesting numbers on the view in Asia towards Japan. The China numbers seem to match the numbers of the Genron poll above. Pew also includes many other countries in the region in their research (scroll down to the last paragraph of the article).

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