Japan from the inside out

The awareness gap

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, September 5, 2010

HERE’S a quick reprise of part of a post from a fortnight ago:

In Yoron no Kyokkai (The Distortion of Public Opinion), Sugawara Taku writes:

All the data indicate that the Liberal Democratic Party’s post-Koizumi agenda was a mistake. Public opinion rejected the readmission of the postal privatization rebels to the party and urged the Abe administration to correct their course. It was clear that the 2007 LDP defeat in the upper house election was not due to the Koizumi structural reforms. The data show that the idea that Aso Taro was a popular figure among the people was laughable. The party took a direction opposite to that indicated by the data, so their defeat in the general election (of 2009) was completely in accord with predictions.

Fujisawa Kazuki is employed at a foreign capital-affiliated investment bank in Japan, is the author of Why Do Investment Professionals Lose to Monkeys?, and has a popular Japanese-language blog. This week, he offered his thoughts on Mr. Sugawara’s book. Here they are in English.


Until the Democratic Party of Japan achieved a change of government by winning the 2009 lower house election, the mass media was tenacious in its Koizumi/Takenaka bashing. They claimed the people revolted because the Koizumi-Takenaka structural reforms led to greater (income) gaps and battered local economies. The author’s data, however, show that a revolt against the Koizumi-Takenaka course was not the cause of the Liberal-Democratic Party defeat. Rather, the opposite was the case. He concludes that the people continued to support the structural reforms, and the loss resulted from the rapid restoration, starting with the Prime Minister Abe, of the old LDP that protected vested interests.

I agree completely, and think the media’s bashing of the structural reforms is extremely odd. At the height of their attacks, they conducted public opinion surveys that showed Koizumi Jun’ichiro was far and away the favorite when people were asked to name the person most suited to be prime minister. They published these results in small articles in the back pages of the newspaper.

The reason for the continued decline in support for the Democratic Party of Japan is their insufficient enthusiasm for the reforms and politics that are obsequious to the vested interest class. Support for Your Party surged in the upper house election because they’ve picked up the Koizumi-Takenaka baton and championed structural reform.

I think the assertions of the author hit the mark, and that gives rise to an important question: Why did the mass media bash the Koizumi-Takenaka structural reforms to that extent? I still don’t know the answer to that question. They never bashed those reforms when Mr. Koizumi was prime minister, so why did they start the groundless criticism so soon after he left office?

The appeal of this book is the author’s objective analysis of the statistical data. He also takes a dispassionate look at the influence of the Internet. Sadly, he draws the conclusion that the Internet has little impact (in Japan), and I think that’s largely accurate.

My blog has a large amount of traffic, and I like to think it could be called a part of the micro-media. Nevertheless, I have to say it has no influence at all compared to television and newspapers. The impact of the alpha bloggers is even less than that of a late night program that few people watch. The viewer totals of even the most popular programs on Nikoniko Doga (an Internet video site) are barely in the tens of thousands.

There is some dynamism in parts of the Internet media, but those parts are still extremely small. I think there is still room for large growth, however, and that the Internet has great potential.

(End translation)


Long-time readers know I’ve been saying the same thing for several years about the prefererence of the Japanese voters for large-scale reform and the popularity of the Koizumi program. It’s gratifying to know there’s supporting statistical evidence, but the conclusion should have been obvious.

For example, Mr. Koizumi dissolved the lower house and called a general election to force the upper house to change its mind over their rejection of his plan to privatize Japan Post. He threw several veterans out of the party for their opposition to the plan.

Were the people on board? Oh, yes–His party won the second-highest postwar majority in the lower house, and he left office a year later with a 70% approval rating. He bequeathed those numbers to his successor, Abe Shinzo.

At the urging of Mori Yoshiro and other LDP mudboaters, Mr. Abe invited those bounced from the party to return. Some of them did. His poll numbers took an immediate 20 percentage-point hit.

Really, anyone who doesn’t see this just doesn’t want to look.

Earlier this week, I referred to an interview with Hokkaido University Prof. Yamaguchi Jiro in Sight magazine. Prof. Yamaguchi served as an informal advisor to the DPJ’s Ozawa Ichiro. He says the reason for Mr. Ozawa’s low approval rating is that he too failed to understand the public’s preference for Mr. Koizumi’s structural reforms and the reasons for the DPJ’s 2009 election victory. The public has had it with the old LDP style of politics.

Mr. Fujisawa also seems to be missing a few things, perhaps because he hasn’t been cured in the brine of the American media/political environment.

The full Koizumi package was structural reform, part of which included the destruction of the old LDP and its Iron Triangle with the bureaucracy and big business. But it also included smaller government, privatization, and encouraging private sector/individual initiative.

The Japanese media is just as infused with left-of-center thinking as their counterparts in the Anglosphere. They were on board with the part of the program that involved the removal of the LDP, but not the part about giving power to the people. Their real agenda emerged when Mr. Koizumi left office.

Meanwhile, the negligible impact of the Japanese blogosphere on events results from several factors. The American (or English-language) blogosphere has successfully disintermediated Big Media and destroyed their monopoly on setting the parameters of discussion. That hasn’t happened here yet. Too many people still cede the presumption of credibility too often to Big Media.

It also doesn’t help that much of the Japanese blogosphere is boring as hell, particularly the visual media. There’s no awareness of the need to be entertaining or to attract an audience. The video presentations I’ve seen are too long and a deadly combination of the amateur and the pretentious. People aren’t interested in tedious sermonettes or panel discussions with too little content consuming too much time.

One popular American blog has on its masthead a quote from H.L. Mencken: “Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.” The Japanese Internet could use a lot more of those buccaneers, as well as people who understand they’re supposed to differentiate themselves from the competition. NHK will always have the edge in soporific discussions, and Beat Takeshi’s TV Tackle will always present slicker infotainment. They can’t do what the Internet can, however–guerilla warfare.

Also, the synergy that’s been created in the Anglosphere sector of the Internet has yet to emerge here, perhaps because too many bloggers think they have to imitate the Big Media model. Mr. Fujisawa says he has achieved micro-media status, and that might be the problem. He and some others have staked out their own small patch of commentator/hyoronka turf, but haven’t created the horizontal connectivity that can take a story viral and blow a hole in the Establishment’s credibility.

There are Japanese capable of doing that. Most of them, however, spend their time writing books or articles in monthly magazines, and none of it appears online. A couple of weekly magazines are starting to get the idea, but all of this is still happening in the dead tree medium.

It’s time to draw the blades and start slashing. Lord knows there are plenty of targets that need some stout whacks, if not complete beheading.

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2 Responses to “The awareness gap”

  1. Roual Deetlefs said


    Have you got any articles on this disintermediation of the blogosphere and the mainstream media in the anglophone world ? I know one of the most powerful internet publications is The Huffington Post Is there nobody that has the money to start something similar in Japan ? The Huffington Post was started by a bored rich woman (God bless her).

    But I think the greatest problem is making money on this type of site. But it can be done methinks. This is how The Daily Maverick sells itself to potential advertisers.

    Here’s the only thing you actually need to know about advertising with The Daily Maverick: around here you’ll never have to compete with anybody else to reach our awesome audience. Where’s the catch? We’re glad you asked. But let’s talk about value before we start scaring you away.

    The Daily Maverick is ideal for you because we have the highest class of reader you can imagine. Not all of them are filthy rich and not all of them are decision-makers who shift huge budgets (although many, many of them are these things), but all of them are smart and all of them are influential in some sphere. If they’re not directly crucial to your business, then they have a great indirect influence through the people who trust them.

    Now when you are dealing with a readership as powerful as that, and advertisers as awesome as you (nice haircut, by the way), you’ve got to show some respect. Chasing hits is disrespectful. It is cheap and easy to publish endless reams of wire copy or nonsensical blog posts, and inevitably some poor soul will click on a link and add to your counter so we can bill you for that click. We get money, but both you and the reader are unhappy. And the only thing we like less than an unhappy advertiser is an unhappy reader.

    We could offer you a ration of hits, but we won’t. We could offer an advertising slot that is one of twenty on the same page, but we won’t. What we do offer is mediated access to this fantastic audience in the perfect environment. At The Daily Maverick there is one, and only one, advertisement per page – yours. You are the sovereign ruler of all advertising on that page.

    The price at which you get this amazing offer is so low that our accountants cry themselves to sleep every night. We think that’s because even an accountant can see the value of the unique opportunity our advertising slots offer. For the first time, you can now use pure brand messaging online. These ads are B.I.G big; it would take a severely stunted mind to miss them. Yet – and this is crucial – they don’t annoy the reader.

    Now, back to that catch. In a nutshell, you don’t get to mess with our readers and you don’t get to piss them off. We won’t offer you interrupt advertising or floaters or bouncers or anything that impinges on their enjoyment of the site. That includes strobe lights flashing in their faces, annoying embedded sounds, and all the rest.

    There are two reasons we’re strict about this.

    One, you really don’t need any of that stuff here. In other online environments, advertisements have to act like annoyed brats throwing tantrums in order to be heard above the clamour. But in the rather more refined environment of The Daily Maverick there is no need to shout, because nobody else is talking when you are.

    Two, none of us can afford to piss off our readers. You may pay our bills, and we’re grateful and all, but these are not the kind of people you mess with.

    If you’re convinced now, we’d be glad to hear from you. Drop a line to and somebody will get right back to you, or contact our Minister of Foreign Affairs, Melissa Rowlston, on 084 467 7778.

    If we haven’t quite convinced you and you’d like to talk about it, then we’ll appreciate your call all the more.

    I’m no expert, but if I was a corporate head, and I read this, I’d call them and find out what’s the deal. The link to this is here.

    Remember that the The Daily Maverick is from South Africa, and South Africa has only 55 000 Dollar Millionaires. This should be a number Japan can comfortably beat.

    So with these musings, just how difficult will it be to start Japan’s version of a government bashing Huffington Post ?
    Wasn’t speaking of the HP kind of site at all. In the U.S. in the 2004 election, CBS News and its main news reader Dan Rather tried to bring down GW Bush with a fake document. A spontaneous network of individual bloggers demonstrated within a few hours that the document was bogus. Rather found himself without a job, later.

    What Japan doesn’t have is a site like this, done by a law professor as an avocation (that turned out to be profitable). A lot of people use this as their Internet browser home page. (I don’t, but I visit.)

    Here’s an example from Britain.

    – A.

  2. toadold said

    As regards print media, the most vicious attack on the “establishment” iron triangle that I’ve seen (in translation at least) was in a manga entitled “AKUMETSU.” If the the manga writers and artist ever got onto the net in a big way things might change?

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