Trends in Public Opinion toward Japan in “Japan Boom” Russia

|Russia

If asked to name the things that Japan and Russia have in common, a variety of elements will probably be pointed out depending on who is asked. After last year’s change of government in Japan, however, couldn’t the “double-headed system” in the political sphere be called their greatest point in common?

Looking at the relationship between Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and Ichiro Ozawa, the Secretary General of the Democratic Party of Japan, an association involuntarily gets made with the relationship between President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, and this is because I think that the structure of power with a liberal leader standing at the apex, while the number two in terms of strength is (or appears to be) effectively in charge, is something that Japan and Russia have in common.

In this fashion there are the Hatoyama and Medvedev administrations for which a commonality in the area of the structure of power can be seen, but a dissimilarity emerges in the area of support ratings. In Japan, in a number of recent opinion polls, the support rating for the Hatoyama cabinet has gone to the 20% level, as against in Russia the proportion giving the answer “I am in support of the actions of President Medvedev” is 59% (source: All-Russia Public Opinion Research Center, 24 April 2010). Furthermore, 50% name Prime Minister Putin and 44% President Medvedev as a “politician to trust” (source: as above; more than one answer permitted). While bearing in mind that the All-Russia Public Opinion Research Center which carried out this poll is held to be a pro-government organization, it is probably alright to see the double-headed Medvedev–Putin administration as garnering approximately 50% support.

In Russia nowadays, Japan’s popularity is rising in the areas of food and culture, including a sushi boom, and Haruki Murakami’s novels being in demand (see “A Japan Boom not just in Moscow, but in Regional Cities too”, Japan Business Press, dated 8 April 2010). In the economic realm also, confidence in Japanese makes of automobiles and household electrical goods is high, and Uniqlo, which opened a store in Moscow in April also appears to be prospering (see “Long Lines even in Moscow: Uniqlo Store Opens”, Japan Business Press, dated 30 April 2010). In this fashion, the phenomenon has arisen in Russia which can be called a “Japan boom”, but just how is Japan rated in Russian public opinion as a result?

Although the data is slightly old, according to a survey carried out by the Public Opinion Foundation in July 2008, one of the big three public opinion organizations in Russia, the responses to the question “With which of the G8 member countries are Russia’s relations growing better? (more than one answer permitted; however, not more than three answers)” were: Germany (43%), France (24%), followed by Japan (19%) which was placed in third, and this had risen slightly compared to the 13% at the time of the survey carried out in June 2006. The responses, however, to the question “With which of the G8 member countries are Russia’s relations growing worse? (not more than three answers)” were: the United States (45%), Britain (19%), followed by Japan (12%) which was in third place (17% in the June 2006 survey).

Furthermore, in a survey carried out by the Public Opinion Foundation in November 2008, the responses to the question “With which of the G20 member countries should Russia first and foremost develop relations? (not more than five answers)” were: China (51%), Germany (50%), followed by Japan (39%) which was in third place, ahead of France at 36%.

Above we have seen the results of opinion polls concerning relations with Japan viewed in the context of “multilateral relations”, and what can be read from these is that the viewpoint taking relations between the two nations of Russia and Japan as good is increasing, and that both positive and negative opinions make up a certain proportion of their respective totals—with on the one hand the opinion that Russia should develop relations being a little under 40%, while on the other the opinion that relations between the two countries are growing worse also exists of itself.

Next let’s take a look at the results of the opinion polls concerning relations with Japan viewed in the context of “bilateral relations.” According to a survey carried out by the Public Opinion Foundation in July 2009, the proportion of those regarding Japan as a friendly country in relations with Russia was 39%, as an unfriendly country, 36%, and those who found it hard to give an answer, 25%. Here also both positive and negative opinions are vying with one another.

On the Northern Territories issue, incidentally, in that same survey, the proportion who responded that they knew of the existence of the problem was 52%, that they had heard of it, 31%, that they were hearing about it for the first time, 14%, and those who found it hard to give an answer, 3%. Moreover, among those regarding Japan as “unfriendly” the proportion who responded that they knew of the existence of the Northern Territories issue was 69% and this proportion was even higher than the overall average. That is, approximately 70% of those regarding Japan as unfriendly are aware of the existence of the Northern Territories issue.

To summarize the above the following may be said. Put in different words: in present-day Russia, while a positive evaluation of Japan is arising, as seen from the “Japan boom” in the areas of culture and economics, on investigation of the results of opinion poll surveys, regarding relations between the two nations of Russia and Japan—whether in the context of multilateral relations or of bilateral relations—positive and negative opinions exist to some proportion in their respective totals.

The pro-Japanese trend in the areas of culture and economics, whether or not it leads in the end to an improvement of relations between the two countries in the political sphere, is an area upon which future trends will be focused.

[Translated by ERINA]