AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

More from the mailbag

Posted by ampontan on Friday, September 25, 2009

AN E-MAIL MESSAGE arrived today from a Westerner who works for a Japanese government office in the European Union and recently started reading this site.

The correspondent agrees with the view that the English-language mass media does an inadequate job of covering the news about Japan. He related an incident that he allowed me to quote here. The emphasis is mine:

I…often attend Japan related seminars. At one last year where former Tokyo BBC Bureau Chief William Horsley was speaking, I challenged him on why the Western press is so silent on Japanese matters. His response was something along the lines of “tell me anything about Japan that is newsworthy”.

That explains a lot, doesn’t it?

He continued:

If only the Western press decided to dig a little deeper they would find a plethora of newsworthy stories – Japan’s true relationship with China and East Asia (Yasukuni aside), the true level of influence Japan has in Western, particularly American, economies, the justice system that finds 98% of people guilty, technology innovations, environmental issues etc. But no, we get stuck with articles on anime, panty vending machines and rent-a-crowd weddings. Why is that?

That’s an excellent question.

I’d also add that Japan is still in the process of reordering and remodeling its government, both at the national and sub-national level. While the subjects at issue can be a bit dry, the debates about those subjects and the people participating in those debates can be fascinating.

Thanks to the correspondent for allowing me to quote the e-mail.

22 Responses to “More from the mailbag”

  1. In general, in what area do you feel Western media excels?

    The problem might not be just Japan.

  2. Paul said

    “But no, we get stuck with articles on anime, panty vending machines and rent-a-crowd weddings. Why is that?”

    Because that’s the interesting stuff. I’ve tried to read your posts about Japanese politics and festivals, and they’re BORING. Does anyone in Japan want to get the country away from fiat money? Does anyone want to scale back or repeal Japan’s hysterically strict gun laws? Is abortion a political issue in Japan? Is homeschooling widely known or accepted in Japan? The answer to all of these questions seems to be “no,” which is why Japan is so dull.

  3. Bryce said

    “Does anyone want to scale back or repeal Japan’s hysterically strict gun laws?”

    Huh?

    “Is abortion a political issue in Japan?”

    What?

    “Is homeschooling widely known or accepted in Japan?”

    eeeeeh?

    So to recap. What you would like to have in your journalism about other countries is stories that remind you of your own.

  4. James A said

    “So to recap. What you would like to have in your journalism about other countries is stories that remind you of your own.”

    Exactly. Because the best drama is the drama that is most familiar. Many of those same journalists and academics, while pretending to be urbane and international, are at heart unable to conquer their own parochialism. They just think watching the Daily Show is enough to make them experts on world affairs. Its the circle-jerk of faux-sophistication.

  5. TKYCraig said

    “Does anyone want to scale back or repeal Japan’s hysterically strict gun laws? Is abortion a political issue in Japan?”

    Is there any need to change either position? I would think not, particularly the gun laws issue.

  6. tony said

    Of course some “Westerner who works for a Japanese government office in the European Union” thinks there should be more reporting on Japan. It would be strange if he didn’t. And anyway, all the “serious” topics he raises have been covered by correspondents.

    Generally speaking journalists and editors decide what to report on the grounds of what their readers WANT or NEED to read, not what they think they SHOULD read. Unlike bloggers, they would go out of business otherwise.

    The world is full of people who think there job/hobby/country/battle with car insurance company is being under-reported due to some media conspiracy. In the case of Japan, its a sad fact that the country’s economy, politics, even culture has been in decline for years.Sadly the level of foreign coverage of Japan reflects geopolitical reality, just as the BBC guy said. I sincerely hope the reality changes soon.

    Would I personally like to see more in-depth coverage of Japan? Yes. I’d get more work and people overseas would know more about my home. Do I think the media has a right to force it on people who don’t want and possibly don’t need it? No.

    The bottom line is that most people overseas just aren’t interested in the topics you blog about, and the topics you think should be covered. If they were you’d be able to jack in your day job.

    —————-

    Generally speaking journalists and editors decide what to report on the grounds of what their readers WANT or NEED to read, not what they think they SHOULD read.

    Based on Internet traffic, what most people WANT to read is what they find on sex sites. Sports sites get a lot of readers too, particularly of the kind that like to argue about the VORP+ of third-string AAAA catchers, to use an American baseball example.

    As for offering what they NEED to read, if you give me a week, perhaps I can come up with a specific example. If you give me a month, perhaps I can come up with a specific example that presents the information fairly and accurately, outside of the financial pages.

    As for newspapers going out of business, you might not be up to date on that. The NYT is losing money hand over fist, their debt is now at junk bond status, and one share of their stock, which once sold for 50 bucks, is now cheaper than the cost of their Sunday edition.

    As of its most recent financial report, WaPo is losing $1.10 for every copy it prints. Newsweek’s viability and credibility are shot. The credibility of AP and Reuters vanished years ago, and the viability of the former is in question.

    There’s a reason that journalists rank lower than lawyers in polls of professions that people respect.

    – A.

  7. tony said

    I just like to add that your correspondent doesn’t understand what “newsworthy” means. It’s not the same as important or worthy.

    Take Japan’s 99% conviction rate. I think it’s shocking and bad for Japan, but it has been like that for donkeys years, shows little sign of changing soon (despite the jury changes), and most crucially has no impact on the lives of people overseas. Like it or not, it isn’t news. Ergo, it’s little reported.

  8. tony said

    I work in the media so of course I know what’s happening.

    I understand your point about not pandering to the public tastes. But what’s the alternative? Appoint some committee to decide what the public should know about? Most journalists I know do their job as well and as honestly as they can with the time and the financial resources allotted them.

    Just to get away from foreign correspondents, how about Japanese domestic media? Why is there so little foreign news here. (I am comparing to Europe not the US!). It’s easy to say its wrong but harder to be honest about where the blame lies. Is it fair to blame the Japanese media? Or are the media just reflecting the insularity of their readers/viewers/society?

    I’m not from the US and lawyers have quite a good reputation in the UK, as they do in Japan. Perhaps journalists don’t always deserve respect, but you’d have little to blog about without them.

  9. St John said

    I take your point about there not being enough coverage of Japan in western media. But then I’m very interested in learning about the country in more detail. Most readers of the ‘popular’ press here in Britain know nothing about Japan and some have been surprised to learn (from me) that it’s a much richer country than Britain! The more serious press does try but I guess they don’t get the space to really explain more interesting subjects.

    I wonder how much detailed overseas news there is in the Japanese press?

    As for ‘Japan’s hysterically strict gun laws’ give me a break! Why should abortion be such a huge issue? I’m interested in learning about Japan not turning it into the southern states of America.

  10. Mac said

    If by “want and need” you mean Daily Express readers needing their annual fix of Japanese Prisoner of War stories … then I guess you are right.

    If by “want and need” you mean editors needing their weekly fix of whacky Japanese “funnies” for the endslot of their news … then I guess you are right.

    They do not even get that the Japanese are more than often doing those things for their own entertainment and humor.

    I wonder if what you write is true and ask, as I did on the Justin McCurry nugget, is the problem that the newspapers just don’t pay you enough to do the work you would want to?

    The truth is, I do not entirely believe that. There is a lack of imagination, rigor and ethics being applied. Japan has been stereotyped. And there is a queue of boy hacks regurgitating the same old supercilious stories that regularly cross the line into racism … on top of decades worth of “victor’s history” which has distorted the Caucasian view of Japan, belittling it.

  11. Aceface said

    “Just to get away from foreign correspondents, how about Japanese domestic media? Why is there so little foreign news here. (I am comparing to Europe not the US!).”

    Maybe because we don’t print stuffs like rent-a-friend type of story to fill the space of foreign news section.

  12. nigelboy said

    “Take Japan’s 99% conviction rate. I think it’s shocking and bad for Japan, but it has been like that for donkeys years, shows little sign of changing soon (despite the jury changes), and most crucially has no impact on the lives of people overseas. Like it or not, it isn’t news. Ergo, it’s little reported.”

    If you did a little research on your own, the reason for high % can be attributed to the following:

    1) # of prosecutors are very low per capita compared to, let’s say U.S.

    http://www8.cao.go.jp/kisei-kaikaku/old/minutes/wg/2005/1109_2/addition051109_2_03.pdf

    2) Low % of people/cases actually going through criminal trial versus # of people/cases prosecution receives. According to the MOJ material, roughly 6% of those who are indicted actually go to a trial while a whopping 55% gets dismissed.

    http://www.moj.go.jp/HOUSO/2008/hk1_1.pdf

    In other words, the prosecution will go to court on slam dunk cases.

    But my question to you Tony is why is 99% shocking and bad? Are you implying that the lower the %, it’s “good”? How about 5%? Is that good?

  13. Ecoutez said

    About the high conviction rate — isn’t that comparing apples and oranges? My understanding is that Japan has a much higher evidence bar before actual prosecution begins, which would at least partly explain the difference.

  14. ampontan said

    Nigelboy: Thanks for that. Your information suggests that a comparison of conviction rates could indeed become the basis for an interesing article, perhaps more suited to the Sunday edition of a newspaper or a magazine. All it takes is imagination and a willingness to do some research.

  15. M-Bone said

    送検された被疑者が起訴される率は63%で、国際的にみても低い。多くの国では、犯罪の疑いのある者を起訴することは検察官の義務とされているが、日本では起訴するかどうかは検察官の裁量にゆだねられているからだ。したがって有罪件数を逮捕件数で割ると、国際的な平均水準に近い。

    この違いの原因は、大陸法と英米法の違いにある。英米法では陪審員がおり、彼らは職業裁判官に比べて無罪の評決を出す確率が高く、検察官にとって予測がむずかしい。これに対して、日本では裁判官と検察官の間に有罪となるかどうかについてのコンセンサスがあるので、無罪になりそうなものは検事があらかじめふるい落としてしまうのだ。

    http://blog.goo.ne.jp/ikedanobuo/e/38d4a7aab7eb22e556d128473c233b71

  16. Mac said

    The 99% figure? The Western press are distorting it and blowing out of all proportion to affirm negative stereotypes about “The Japanese” … as usual. For the record, I support their decision to keep the death penalty and think it is wonderful.

    I also believe that Japanese lawyers stand heads above UK, never mind your average US, lawyers … merely because it is SO much harder to become one (3% of those who sit for the test pass annually), and the price of being a bad one is total. I have no idea about the judiciary. UK lawyers are not that great.

    There are, what, about 22,000 attorneys in Japan? The State Bar of California alone has about 200,000 members. What does that tell say?

    Any such article ought to start with such a background. Come to think about it, I have never read any good reportage about Japanese lawyers and the legal system … although I have read plenty of Justin McCurry’s “Bizzare Nips” type stories and of panty vending machines.

  17. Ajapa said

    I will never say that there are no serious problem in the Japanese judicial system, but I am sometimes irritated by foreign media’s report, like BBC’s report
    Japan death row ‘breeds insanity’” 10 September 2009
    where the reporter mentioned about the conviction rate and the death penalty as:

    In Japan, where criminal trials have a 99% conviction rate, the death penalty has wide public support.

    Yes, Japan is yet a scary totalitarian police state.

    For Japan as the land of panty vending machines issue, you may ask Colin Joyce who had once been working as Tokyo correspondent for The Daily Telegraph and now are freelance writer. You can find an excerpt of his article entitled as “Confessions of a Tokyo Correspondent”, published on Newsweek Japan, from Naoto Amaki’s blog entry “メディアの虚実を見抜く眼力“.

  18. Aceface said

    well,just in case you missed this,it’s all here.”Death row Japanese-Style:”Cruel,Inhuman and degrading”by Justin McCurry.
    http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/japan/090922/death-row-japanese-style

    Not a bad piece.But I would change the title to “Save Shoko Asahara”,instead to make the story more spicy.

  19. Ajapa said

    “Save Shoko Asahara”, what a sensational and controversial title it is!

    It is somewhat ironic that if Asahara had been born in some other country without death penalty, he might have merely been shot dead by policemen or counter-terrorist force without spending his time in any court battle. More human way? I am sometimes confused when people start to talk about humanity.

    Justin McCurry seems spent nearly two weeks more to inspect Amnesty’s report than BBC writer. That might be nice. But I don’t know if he did a corroborative research by himself, independently.

  20. Aceface said

    Tell you what.I agree with McCurry on this in general.But it would be more insightful to the readers why Japanese public supports “Cruel,Inhuman and Degrading”death penality.

    Asahara is one of the reason.’99 murder of housewife and her eleven years old baby and extravaganza at the court with anti death penalty activist lawyers is the another.The public want avenge these acts of “cruel,inhuman and degrading”crime with maximum penality.Lacking these detail you get impression like Japanese are mean and cold hearted,backward nation with death penalty.The nation of Japan McCurry doesn’t hesitate to portray in various forms.

  21. Mac said

    “Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading” is just one of the mantras of the anti-nipponistes. They have been chanting it since … oh, at least 1937 … when America put fixed its sights firmly on the economic domination of the Pacific-Asia region.

    It fits in perfectly with the “vicious, sneaky sword-wielding, beheading Jap” stereotype.

    I have never understood the liberal fashion of expect the rest of society to pay for life incarceration for the likes of Asahara. At the very least, they could always offer murders the option of an assisted suicide.

    I suppose it would be more congruent of a collective society that invoices the family of suicide victims who top themselves by jumping in front of Shinkansen, to at least demand that the families or lawyers of murders pay for their imprisonment.

    Sounds medieval, and I am not sure it would apply to the criminally insane, but it pretty much put an end to costly suicides.

    I fear many of the anti-death penalty activist lawyers are on a par with Iris Chang as far as naive and cultish following of Western Liberal fashions (in Chang’s re-manufacturing the Holocaust Industry in the East). I am guess that a few are genuine and have some kind of philosophical basis for their position but has anything been honestly written about their motivations?

    None of the Liberal voices in the East nor West has convinced me that I, or society, should pay for their moral indulgence and I have never heard of anyone keen to pay for the upkeep of a rapist, pedophile or murder themselves.

  22. nigelboy said

    Thank you Ampontan for allowing my post to go through even though I failed to address the relevance to your story.

    Looking at the statistics from the Ministry of Justice, it seems to be that the high conviction rates is completely justified and that decreasing the % would mean the prosecutors will go ahead with a trial on cases which they would deemed in the past would be “dismissed”. To me, that’s more scary.

    And I don’t expect Tony to answer my question because he probably has the fixed mindset that conviction rate should equal to that of his own country and that anything higher or lower to that fixed amount would be construed “shocking and bad”. In other words, anything that deviates from his country’s perspective is in fact deviating from a “global standard” and therefore, should be condemned.

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