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  • Writer's pictureTim Odagiri

Japan is the Adult in the Room

I'm having a tantrum

The nations of the world recently have been behaving like a bunch of cranky kids, refusing to play well together despite having ample toys. Consider the United States, scribbling on everyone else’s coloring books with its box of sixty-four racial and sexual-minority crayons. Then there’s the Russian kid who lives in a palace and even has his own pony, but keeps throwing rocks at the Ukrainian family that lives next door. And who can forget North Korea, playing with a science kit in the corner and biting anyone who tries to take a look?

A few weeks ago, Japan got up from this neighborhood playground, dusted itself off, put on its grown-up pants, and began discharging radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean. As expected, some of its international playmates immediately started pouting, one even screaming that wasn’t going to eat any of the food made by Japan’s mom anymore. While such tirades didn’t surprise anyone, the big shocker was that Japan’s frenemy, South Korea, put its arm around the archipelago and vowed to keep playing together.

Japan has every reason to be a brat. Back in the 1980s, it was the darling of the developed nations, with its modern economic miracle, its enviable life expectancy, its advanced technological prowess, and its rich culture. These days, some speak of Japan in the past tense, and its economic and social situation is troubling enough to make a toddler cry. And yet, it keeps acting like a grown-up. The same can’t always be said for nearby nations. The recent hubbub over the release of processed nuclear wastewater into the Pacific Ocean is a good example.

The situation in Fukushima is complex. We could give Japan a spanking for the poor engineering of its nuclear plant so many decades ago, but forcing the country to clean up its mess seems like a better punishment. Not only is it trying to tidy things up, but it’s doing so even with the other kids heaping on abuse. Despite the damage to its reputation, to its economy, and to its relations with its neighbors, Japan deferred to experts who said that using the neighborhood fishing hole to wash away the mess would be just fine.

There were some protests from local residents over reputational damage. But most of the noise came from a neighboring country. So as not to cause the family any undue embarrassment, I will refer to that nation merely as “Bobby.” When Japan announced its intention to release the processed water, Bobby had a meltdown, no pun intended. Here are just some of its actions, translated into child-speak.

  • “I’m not going to play with you anymore!” (On Bobby’s decision to block seafood imports from Japan.)

  • “You’re stupid!” (On the harassing phone calls from Bobby’s relatives to Japanese residents and businesses.)

  • “I know you are, but what am I?!” (On its insistence that Japan is polluting the oceans despite Bobby dumping higher levels of tritium into waterways.)

  • “Liar, liar, pants on fire!” (On Bobby’s refusal to join the scientific community in monitoring the waters near Fukushima.)

  • “Stop it! Stop it! Stop it!” (Just in case I missed any of Bobby’s other tantrums.)

Given the voice of support from the International Atomic Energy Agency and the response from other nearby nations like South Korea, Bobby appears to have other motives for taking such a firm, “Blah, blah, blah, I can’t hear you” response.

Of course, Japan sometimes behaves like a child. All nations, no matter how old they are, are susceptible to selfish outbursts and bouts of, “Mine! Mine! Mine!” But at least this time around, Japan is making a difficult, controversial decision and dealing with the consequences, a refreshing moment of adult behavior in a Bobby-friendly world.

[Image Credits: 五差路/]


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