Stands with a fist
This photograph of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe accompanied the story “Wealth gap widening under Abe” (The Japan Times on Sunday, November 23, 2014). Just days earlier the Prime Minister had dissolved the National Diet (Parliament) and called an election for Sunday, December 14th. It’s an early election, two years before the next poll was anticipated. So although the story was a straight economics piece, the photograph was taken from an early election campaign appearance that had nothing to do with economics per se. There are many similar pictures, like the one that accompanied the Sunday, November 30th story “U.S. in suspense over ‘Abenomics’,” and another one accompanying “Newspapers take sides on ‘Abenomics’” the same day.
What I want to write about is this clenched fist punching of the air thing Japanese have going. I don't get it. Maybe it’s only me, but it reminds me of images of saluting, goose-stepping Nazis. Japanese politicians, striking unions, public protesters of all kinds do it. Even the elderly. What do they think they’re doing? I know there is a terribly fundamental cultural thing going on that I'm missing, but what is it? Is fisting the air violently like that a show of unanimity, especially since it is choreographed so that everyone in a group does it together? Or is it a display of determination and courageous fighting spirit? If that’s the intention then I think it would be better to use the more historically cultural “bansai!” cheer with raised arms. Did punching the air with raised arms and fists translate into the general culture from sports culture? If that’s the case it’s a rather poor pedigree. To me punching the air with a fist comes across only as a sign of anger and violence and a measure of the propensity towards barbarianism that lingers beneath the surface of every Japanese. Look at the Nazis! I don’t mean that I think Japanese politicians are fascists - although some of them certainly are. I only mean that this punching the air with a closed fist thing just looks really bad. And stupid. And silly because it is such an obvious affectation.
Not only Japanese do it, but Koreans and Chinese. And a lot of Arabs, too. Just watch the news any day of the week.
Published in The Japan Times on Thursday, December 4, 2014 as “Why the clenched fists?”
I spoke to a Japanese high school English teacher about this topic and she asked what Canadians do? I said we do nothing. Or else we just shout. She didn’t understand the idea of not punching the air with the fist, or just the idea of silent celebration.