Chinese outrage over islands troubles Japanese public

Protests against China's stance on the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands have so far been limited.

Story highlights

  • Japanese public increasingly concerned by anti-Japanese backlash in China
  • Centers on disputed islands known by Japan as Senkakus and by China as Diaoyu islands
  • So far the reaction in Japan has been limited to few small-scale protests against China

"Are Chinese people bad people?"

Forty-year-old Mika Takagi said that this question from her five-year-old child prompted her to think about what exactly recent television reports were telling everybody.

In the past week, the Japanese public has been waking up to images of Chinese protesters expressing their anger towards Japan and its claim over a few uninhabited islands located between the two countries.

Japan calls them the Senkakus, while China calls them the Diaoyu islands.

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The Japanese media showed images of huge crowds throwing bottles and eggs at the Japanese embassy in Beijing as they chanted nationalistic slogans. Television stations also carried lengthy reports from inside a Japanese-owned mall -- elsewhere in China -- which was slowly being surrounded by increasingly violent demonstrators.

Though life has continued as normal across Japan, many Japanese people are increasingly troubled by the dispute.

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Background: How remote rock split China, Japan

"I can understand that the Chinese are angry at the past, when the Japanese invaded them and did twisted things to them, but that's the past," said 65-year-old Kiyoshi Yamashita.

"Japan was also victim of the atomic bomb dropped by the United States, but we don't constantly reproach them for doing that. At that time, it was war."

Anti-Japanese protests in China are nothing new. In 2010, a collision near the disputed islands in the East China Sea between a Chinese fishing boat and a Japanese marine ship soured relations between the two countries after the captain of the Chinese vessel was briefly detained.

But they have rarely gone on for so long and become so violent.

Shota Saito, a 22-year-old college student, said that recent events have pushed him to reconsider plans to travel to China, and that the protests were "frightening."

But Saito knows that not all Chinese people hate the Japanese because he lives in Yokohama, a city known for its large Chinatown and has Chinese friends of his own.

"I think only a handful of radicals are reacting excessively," Saito said. "I think there are many people who like Japan, so it does not change my views about Chinese people."

Many people, such as 26-year-old Aya Fujimori, suspect that the lack of effective communication between the two countries is causing the rift.

"My sense is that we have come to this point because we did not talk enough between each other, and we each make our own conclusions," she said.

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Though he believes the islands are Japanese because of "historical written proof," Yamashita says the current dispute is "absurd," and that the two countries need to have a serious heart-to-heart to settle things.

The media has also come under fire for its reporting on the issue.

"It seems to me that the media only shows us the flashy stuff," Fujimori said.

She also suspects that most employees of the damaged businesses in China are locals, and that they are not all anti-Japanese. "I think there are people who oppose Japan and those who don't. I'd like to hear what the latter people have to say," she said.

Ever since Takagi was surprised by her child's question, she says she has become more attentive to what is happening.

"I think many facts about the past are not being reported properly in China," she said, while suspecting the same thing in Japan.

"There may be some things that we do not know about the past between China and Japan. Maybe it's because records have not been set straight that we cannot understand each other."

As for the answer to her young son's question: "I told him that Chinese people are not bad people, and that it would be great if we could all get along better."

Even though anti-Chinese protests in Japan have not been observed on the same scale as in China, there have been some tensions and a number of minor incidents reported.

But this may change if the anti-Japanese backlash continues.

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