Let’s learn from J*pan to fix our ident*ty cri**s

Friday, December 9th, 2022 08:40 | By
Japan's coach bows down and thanks the crowd despite losing a tense match against Croatia on penalties.
Japan's coach bows down and thanks the crowd despite losing a tense match against Croatia on penalties. PHOTO/Courtesy.

Japan bowed out of the World Cup in the Round of 16 stage having impressed football fans globally. For years, the island East Asia nation has been known for many things, but football was not one of them.

Their rise in football however should not come as a complete surprise. They have been dominating the game in the continent for a while. But dominating the game in the continent is one thing, however rising to claim a place at the table in the world is a different game all together.

That, however, is what Japan is doing one world cup at a time. In this year’s world cup, prior to losing to Croatia in a penalty shootout, Japan had claimed the sculp of two of Europe’s best known football countries. In their opening match, Japan defeated Germany then went on to beat Spain.

Germany has won the trophy four times, only Brazil has won it more. Spain has won the trophy once but has won the European championships multiple times. For Japan to bring these champions to their knees speaks volumes of the development of the game in Japan.

But Japan brought more than mere football development to the world cup. Perhaps what will remain etched in the minds of the world, after the score line is forgotten, is the politeness of Japanese fans, and their habit of cleaning the stadium after the games. A rather mundane act of care is capturing the attention of the world.

Their players are polite to a fault. Their coach, the searing heat of the Qatar weather notwithstanding, shows up in the stadium in a three-piece suit and would hardly be caught demonstrating the regular theatrics associated with football coaches. He is not the younger Jose Mourinho racing the length of the touchline and remonstrating with match officials. Instead, Hajime Moriyasu would politely bow to acknowledge others and his fans.

This is not the first time Japan’s signature politeness has been on display. Rather it is a practice they have carried with themselves everywhere they have been going. American scholar and political technocrat Joseph Nye is accredited with propagating the concept of soft power. Soft power rests on three legs: a nation’s culture, its political values and lastly its foreign policies. A nation exercises its soft power by imposing its influence on the world through these subtle mechanisms which often may go undetected but leave a lasting imprint in their wake.

Most nations sometimes export repulsive behaviors to the world. Unfortunately, this is what football fans have for long been known for. The English are pretty good in this. They tend to be untethered consumers of beer which often leads to altercations with opposing fans. Other nations export different reputations to the world scene. Just mention Nigeria and a range of images and emotions will cross the listener’s mind. It is their export to the world. Japan is teaching the world a lesson of soft power at another level.

What could be considered Kenya’s export to the world? We are a nation of undefined values; it is never clear what will show up whenever Kenyans are gathered on the global stage. Our scholars rush to display the prowess of our athletes whenever a discussion of Kenya’s possible soft power arises.

But that is in so much danger now. Kenya has survived, so to speak, by the skin of her teeth from athletes being banned from participating in global meets. A strong admirable positive value base could greatly add to the stock of a nation. It could aid their diplomacy.

Many years ago Kenya had a ministry of national guidance; and we have had ministries of culture and related affairs time without end. But to what effect? Half a century after independence we appear to be a nation lost in a morass of identity crisis. Who exactly are we and what do we stand for? We could develop a currency of soft power to trade in the world scene. Japan is showing how politeness and mindfulness can be traded to a nation’s gain.

—The writer is the Dean, School of Communication, Daystar University

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