Readers in Council,
The Japan Times,
5-4, Shibaura 4-chome,
Minato-ku, Tokyo 108-0023
When Japanese are excited they punch the air with raised arms and clenched fists. Recently Prime Minister Shinzo Abe did it in photographs accompanying stories like “Wealth gap widening under Abe” (Sunday, November 23, 2014), and “U.S. in suspense over ‘Abenomics’,” and another one accompanying “Newspapers take sides on ‘Abenomics’” (Sunday, November 30, 2014). The opposition does it, too, as in the re-printed photo accompanying “Pioneer ex-SDP chief Takako Doi dies at age 85” (Monday, September 29, 2014).
I don’t get this clenched fist punching the air thing Japanese have going. It reminds me 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 show of anger and violence and a measure of a lingering propensity for barbarism. Look at the Nazis! I don’t mean that I think Japanese politicians are fascists, only that this punching the air with a closed fist thing looks really bad. It’s silly because it is such an obvious affectation.
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.