WHEN the three winners of this year’s Nobel Prize for physics were announced on Tuesday evening, the Japanese media went wild with excitement.
“Three Japanese have won”, screamed the Japanese headlines, blithely ignoring the fact that one of the three men – Yoichiro Nambu – holds American nationality.
Even those Japanese newspapers and TV networks that cared to point out that Nambu had acquired US citizenship long ago, continued to regard him as “Japanese” in their headlines and reports.
However, foreign news media were careful to note that Nambu is a “Japan-born, American” physicist. Their headlines said: “Two Japanese, One American win Nobels”. Which is only to be expected.
In fact, Nambu, who moved to the US in 1952 to pursue his research, is a classic example of the “brain drain” that hit Japan during those early post-war years.
Many like him never returned home. In 1970, Nambu took up American citizenship.
The influential Asahi Shimbun daily is so far the only major newspaper to have brought up this issue of whether it is correct to regard Nambu as Japanese.
In an article posted on its web site, the Asahi quoted a government official as saying however that it would not be right not to add Nambu’s prize to Japan’s Nobel tally.
The official attitude towards Nambu’s nationality sadly reflects how the Japanese look at nationality issues.
A Cabinet minister recently had to resign, just five days after he was appointed, for saying that the Japanese are “ethnically homogeneous”.
His statement plainly disregards those who hold Japanese nationality but who may be either a minority like the indigenous Ainu people or people who came originally from other countries.
Curiously, the Japanese media sometimes “disowns” a Japanese even when he or she holds Japanese citizenship.
A case in point is former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori, who never gave up his Japanese nationality.
One wonders how the government and the media would have treated Fujimori had he turned out to be a great statesman, instead of the diplomatic embarrassment that he has become.