It is rare to see a country more advanced than the United States. Americans like to bemoan about how other countries always do things better, but in fact most of this is just talk. When it comes down to it, America is usually still ahead of a given country in most measurements of development.
Japan is one of the few exceptions to this pattern. In the media coverage of its earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disasters Japan has often been characterized as more advanced than the United States. Its buildings are built to higher standards against disasters such as earthquakes. It is far more successful in discouraging crime and looting. Its nuclear regulators are more accountable than those in the United States. In many ways life in Japan is nicer than life in the United States.
A generation ago such acknowledgments would have been tinted by a hint of fear. Japan was supposed to be the rival of the United States, an economic threat that warned of American decline. Today that role has been taken over by China, in the wake of Japan’s economic stagnation.
Thus coverage of Japan has been generally quite positive. Indeed, sometimes the tone of media coverage has verged upon awe. If a nation with as much technological prowess as Japan was so badly damaged by the tsunami, a reporter might write, what would a similar event do to the United States? The implication is that Japan’s technology is just plain better than America’s.
Interestingly, this type of coverage is reminiscent of the coverage America’s media gave to another (totally unrelated) event. This was the South Ossetia war in 2008. At that time America’s media adopted a similar tone of awe towards Russia’s military. Russia’s army, after all, is one of the few that can legitimately challenge America’s. It is one of a very few states – perhaps the only one – that might actually win a conventional war with the United States.
The American media’s awe of Japanese technology today sounds quite similar to its awe of Russian arms in 2008. Very few countries can arouse the wonder of the American media. It is refreshing to see it happen.