Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Popular Myths and Legends, Continued: USA, Japan

I remember growing up hearing about how those dastardly no-gooders over in Japan were either much better or much worse manufacturers than we were, and how in both cases it meant the end of the American Dream.  I mean, that's how it felt, with Japanese brands like Toyota, Datsun, Sony, and so on excelling in what used to be U.S.-dominated markets right here in River City.  Buy American! the cry arose, not so much because of any particularly clear knowledge of how the international import-export economy worked, but because by gosh we were Americans, and we were the best.

Indeed, it didn't matter if a Japanese-made car could run twice as long on less gas than the American car could, if it didn't have Ford or Chevy (or any other American brand, now--hey, don't hate on me for not listing all of them) on the back, it wasn't worth a hill of beans.  That's good ole' American pinto beans, for sure for sure.  With bacon.  And "tuhmater" sauce and just a bit of brown sugar.

(Ah, heck, now I'm hungry again.)

It was during this time that I heard one of the more interesting of urban legends.  It seemed, according to the story being told, that a town in Japan, anxious to be more accepted by Americans (and, we were sure, knowing that Americans only look at the 'made in' label when making purchasing decisions), decided to rename one of their towns "USA" in order to say truthfully that products made there had been "Made in USA."

Granted, had the deception been a real desire, they could've just put "Made in USA" labels on the products without renaming the town, but for an urban legend to prosper it needs a twist of the sinister, right?  Sinister is to urban legends what bacon is to beans, after all. 

The amusing part is that accepting that this could happen implies either labeling the entirety of the U.S. Customs force as a bunch of incompetent knuckleheads, or not knowing what the job of Customs is.  While I grant that there have been instances of sleepy Customs agents letting something past, by and large our friendly(ish) border agents are pretty good at making sure that incoming products meet labeling and other legal import requirements.

Granted, back then it wasn't possible to go online to look up the tourist sites in Japan, including this one for the Usa Shrine, a beautiful structure which is noted as a Japanese National Treasure and is considered one of the most significant Shinto shrines in the world.  Named after the town nearby, it was called the Usa jingu back when it was built in the early 8th Century, which does just happen to be a few years before Japanese companies started manufacturing electronics and cars for sale.

Unfortunately I don't have any pictures, but Google Images does.  It's a beautiful shrine.  

So, like many other myths, this one bears a kernel of truth--that there really is a town named Usa in Japan--and is borne through the air on whispers of distrust for others. 


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