Japan from the inside out


Posted by ampontan on Thursday, March 25, 2010

HERE WE GO AGAIN: If what you know about Japan you learned from the English-language media, then everything you know is wrong.

Long-time friends have seen that demonstrated dozens of times on this site, followed by the occasional drive-by from the FCCJ spitball artists.

The last time there was a drive-by, a sympathetic soul who linked to my post also tried to be fair. He wrote that he thought the person responsible for that particular item of yellow journalism wasn’t being malicious on purpose.

Well, he can stop trying to be fair. This time, the lid’s been raised off the sewer. Only this time, someone else did the heavy lifting.

There’s a website named Spike Japan that doesn’t have many posts (and the ones it does have are long). Several of the posts deal with what passes for English-language journalism about this country.

The author of the website, a foreigner, says he is interested in the decline of rural Japan. He was shown an English-language article in the Daily Yomiuri about a town (machi) in Gunma named Kanna that is suffering from a population loss.

He thought a lot of it was clearly wrong, and spoke directly to the author of the piece. She insisted that her facts and figures had come from interviews with the mayor and other residents during a visit.

He decided to look into it himself, so he visited Kanna and talked to the same people. Here’s what he found.

Your headline numbers, the big ones, are precisely, up-to-the-minute correct—the overall over-65 percentage is indeed 22%, and the overall under-15 percentage is indeed 13%. Your other numbers are without exception wrong.

I’m beginning to see a pattern here, wouldn’t you agree? The numbers you think you can easily inflate without anyone noticing, you do, the ones that you think someone might notice, you don’t.

Most of the rest of the information in the Yomiuri article seems to have been pulled out of thin air. For example, the author claimed that children were sent out of town to go to high school–despite the existence of a high school a few hundred yards from one of the places she visited. Spike Japan has a photo.

The author of the Yomiuri article was Catherine Makino. She was the President of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan from July 2008 to June 2009.

You can read the Spike Japan article here to see how he handled it.

One caveat: Spike Japan gets a little nitpicky with the English translation of the word shuraku, or settlement. He says places like that should be considered hamlets instead of villages. It can get complicated, but in Japanese, shuraku and mura (village) are close to being synonymous. One of the definitions of mura in the Reikai Shinkokugo Jiten, a J-J dictionary, is shuraku. There are also examples given of shuraku on the Web, and all of them are defined as a type of mura. Then there is the specialized use of the words in cultural anthropology to consider.

But I’m getting a little nitpicky myself!

Be that as it may, there’s no longer any reason whatsoever to assume that any piece of journalism about Japan in English is credible, either in whole or in part. It’s all suspect from the start. The burden of proof is now on them. And if the author of this Spike Japan piece is giving it to us straight, they’ll lie about that, too.

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