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Japan Shocked By China's Fury Over Island Dispute


China has begun cracking down on violent anti-Japan protests. The two countries have been feuding over control of a group of islands in the East China Sea. And today, the man expected to be China's next leader said Japan should, quote, "rein in its behavior." But as Lucy Craft reports from Tokyo, many Japanese are shocked about how the Chinese are behaving.

LUCY CRAFT, BYLINE: Japan and China normalized ties 40 years ago and in terms of economic relations, are literally joined at the hip; their cross-border trade reaching $340 billion last year. Their political relationship, meanwhile, has been a constant source of tension. And yet while anti-Japanese hostility in China has flared up repeatedly over the years, the recent widespread fury targeted at Japanese government offices and businesses over the last week, blindsided many here - like 72-year-old greengrocer Hiroko Iwasaki.

HIROKO IWASAKI: (Through translator) It escalated so fast. I'm shocked. We are helpless, and it's awful.

CRAFT: Businessman Kazunori Mutoh refused to believe the destruction being wrought in China, was truly fueled by anti-Japanese hatred. In a widely held view, he said that the government-approved protests gave the Chinese an opportunity to vent.

KAZUNORI MUTOH: (Through translator) The people who are demonstrating are actually expressing dissatisfaction with their own government, against their own country. So I feel no personal antagonism towards the Chinese people.

CRAFT: The violence across the East China Sea seems a world away from Japan, with its low crime rate and where political protest is still unusual, says Michael Cucek, an independent political analyst.

MICHAEL CUCEK: One of the Japanese points of pride is, we don't have demonstrations; we don't get excited; we don't go crazy. And it looks down upon the Chinese - not only the government, but the actual people of China - as being irrational, barbarians. This is language that is commonly used to describe Chinese.

CRAFT: I'm standing in front of the Chuen-Tei Chinese restaurant in central Tokyo. It's a typical weekday lunchtime. The restaurant's full of customers sitting down for their bowls of noodles. It's business as usual. Of course, if this were a Japanese restaurant in China, the eatery would probably be closed, covered with signs expressing support for the Chinese side in the islands dispute.

After finishing her lunch at the Chuen-Tei restaurant, social worker Sayaka Onishi held out hope against hope, for a diplomatic solution.

SAYAKA ONISHI: (Through translator) Japanese are generally a peaceful people, but every country has its extreme elements. This calls for reconciliation with the Chinese. I am absolutely against the use of force.

CRAFT: Mutoh, the businessman, doesn't completely buy Japanese arguments that the tiny islands - which the U.S. occupied after World War II and then handed back to Japan - have always been Japanese property. Chinese claims date back centuries.

MUTOH: (Through translator) Prime Minister Noda and others say historically, it's Japanese territory. But I'm not so sure it was Japan's, if you go back thousands of years. As far as recent history is concerned, the U.S. declared it Japanese territory after the war, and returned it to us.

CRAFT: Because of its pacifist constitution, military force is not an option for Japan in resolving the Senkaku-Daiyou islands dispute - an issue that may compel the U.S., which is obligated to defend Japanese territory, to step in.

For NPR News, this is Lucy Craft in Tokyo.


MONTAGNE: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lucy Craft