Foreign Policy Blogs

Japan works to prevent import restrictions

Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto said Japan is trying to prevent excessive import restrictions on Japanese products abroad over fears of radiation contamination Friday. Fears of contamination arose following the crisis caused by the Mar. 11 earthquake and tsunami at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant.

Matsumoto said, “We will fully inform other countries of the condition of the Fukushima plant and try to prevent excessive reactions or unjust import bans.” He also said Japan has been collecting information on import restrictions implemented by its trading partners and is working on a plan to issue certificates to identify production areas for both farm and industrial items to allay concerns. He said that any restrictive measures should be based on international scientific standards and that countries such as China should clarify the grounds for stricter inspections of Japanese products.

The problem is Japan hasn’t exactly been doing a good job of keeping other countries fully informed of the condition at the Fukushima plant. And Japanese companies have a long track record of mislabeling products to allay consumer fears, such as when a meat-packer deliberately mislabeled chicken, or how stores mislabel dolphin meat as whale meat, as documented in The Cove.

I understand Japan’s fears of restrictions hindering its export-based economy in this difficult time. A vigorous economy is key to the country’s reconstruction process. But I can’t help but seeing a hint of karmic reaction in other countries’ restrictions on Japanese exports.

Japan has long been criticized for its economic protectionism. Did Japan use “international scientific standards” when it rejected Tylenol because it was “too strong for the Japanese”? Or when it banned American beef because “Japanese can’t digest American beef because their intestines are longer”? One of the most famous (and ridiculous) examples of this was in the 1980s when Japan restricted foreign skis on the basis that snow in Japan is somehow different. When one cow in the U.S. is found to have mad-cow disease, Japan bans all beef imports from the U.S. indefinitely. I can’t help but think how Japan would react if the tables were turned and one of its trading partners was having a nuclear crisis.

I understand Matsumoto is just doing the job he’s held for almost a month now, and I’m not criticizing him for that. I just think that he should not expect other countries to treat Japan better than Japan treats them.



Dustin Dye

Dustin Dye is the author of the YAKUZA DYNASTY series, available through the Amazon Kindle.

He lived in Okayama, Japan, where he taught English at a junior high school through the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program for three years. He is a graduate from the University of Kansas, where he received a bachelor's degree in anthropology.

His interest in Japan began in elementary school after seeing Godzilla fight Ghidorah, the three-headed monster. But it wasn't until he discovered Akira Kurosawa's films through their spaghetti Western remakes that he truly became fascinated in the people and culture of Japan.

He lives in Kansas with his wife, daughter and guinea pig.

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E-mail him: [email protected]