Japan from the inside out

Uesugi Takashi on sengoku 38 and the Japanese media

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, November 16, 2010

THE MAN who used the screen name of sengoku 38 to post the Coast Guard’s video of the incident near the Senkakus to YouTube has confessed his involvement to authorities. Just before the Coast Guard sailor came forward last week, freelance journalist Uesugi Takashi wrote an article for Diamond Online excoriating the Japanese media for their behavior. Mr. Uesugi does not hide his support for the Democratic Party of Japan, but he also thinks a journalist should have higher priorities. Here’s a summary/translation of most of it in English.

All you read or hear from morning to night is, “Where did it come from? Who leaked it?”

Just what is the Japanese mass media doing? Rather than getting fed up with it all, I can only laugh that the kisha club media still doesn’t get it.

The media always gets suckered by the bureaucrats to handle their spin control, and the Japanese government must be delighted. If politicians overseas knew what went on, they’d probably be envious. There aren’t many countries where the media would work with the government to look for and expose a valuable information source. The Kan administration should take better care of their kisha club, who are such superb spin doctors…

The most basic role of journalism is to monitor authority. Put another way, they should reveal the facts the government would hide and uphold the people’s right to know…That’s the universal rule of journalism and the meaning for its existence, whether in the United States, China, South America, or the Mideast.

Only the kisha club media in Japan is the exception.

Today (10 November) on a morning TV program, commentators and broadcasters thundered that the government can’t manage information. These are the same people who always shout at the top of their lungs about the “people’s right to know”, yet they don’t care about that this time around. They’re falling all over themselves hunting with the government for the perpetrator.

Has the media forgotten the lessons of the past? About 30 years ago, Nishiyama Takichi, a reporter for the Mainichi Shimbun, had a scoop exposing a secret agreement between Japan and the U.S. about Okinawa. The government arrested him and the kisha club media drove him from the fourth estate.

Now, 30 years later, it is clear that was a mistake. In March, then-Foreign Minister Okada Katsuya led a search that discovered the agreement. In short, the kisha club media was unable to protect one journalist who exposed an inconvenient truth that the government had covered up.

It’s the same thing all over again. Someone uploaded the video on You Tube and did us the favor of exposing information the government covered up. That was the media’s obligation to begin with. They’re treating sengoku 38 as a criminal when they should be paying him respect as the man who upheld the citizens’ right to know. But other than the Sankei Shimbun, none of them are doing it.

If the media would completely deny the act of sengoku 38, it is also a denial of their own job. One of the most basic roles for journalists is to expose information that conceals authority and present it to the people. If the media exclude leaked information that was obtained from authority, that job becomes impossible.

Ordinarily, the kisha club media of television and newspapers disseminate news they trumpet as an exclusive scoop or something only they acquired.

In other words, when they do it, it’s reporting, but when it happens on the Net or the alternative media, they want to call it a leak. That’s just a problem of face for the kisha club media, and that is nothing but arrogance.

Incidentally, my position from the beginning was that even if the video was leaked, the information should have been made available. That would serve both the citizens’ right to know and the national interest.

With the exception of non-fiction writer Uozumi Akira, that is also the position of nearly every freelance journalist. (In the 9 November edition of the morning edition of the Asahi Shimbun, Mr. Uozumi wrote, “Secrecy is a part of diplomacy, and the right to know the truth should not necessarily take priority.”)

His stand of speaking up for authority is an exception. Unfortunately, Mr. Uozumi has denied the work of Nishiyama Takichi and forgotten the lessons of the Okinawa secret treaty.

I don’t care at all that the government is looking for the perpetrator. But that’s completely wrong for journalism—in fact, they should be doing the opposite.

The media must be united now to stand up against the government’s cover-up and continue to work to expose the truth.

Rather than try to discover the identity of sengoku 38, they should be trying to discover why the Kan administration had to cover up the Senkakus video for the past month.

Here’s a previous post describing Mr. Uesugi’s efforts to break the kisha club monopoly on news conference attendance when the Hatoyama administration took office.

We all know that crap is king.

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23 Responses to “Uesugi Takashi on sengoku 38 and the Japanese media”

  1. toadold said

    HMMMMM, I wonder what an opinion poll of the Japanese populace attitude toward the kisha club would show?
    It seems to me that Japan has a higher than usual media sourcesthat uses print on dead trees. How well would they survive if the Internet meida ever takes off in Japan?

  2. MSM is dying. They are commiting suicide in Japan! Not newspapers at all.

    Japan is hardly free if this is what goes on….

    Maybe the Chinese actions will be beneficial to Japan? A few islands are not worth much, especially as China supports the Law of the Sea Treaty which will soon agree the borderline with Japan?

    Of course, the ultimate benefit may be to the long time corrupt leaders of Japan. Pity!

  3. Aceface said

    On Nishiyama

    1)Nishiyama not only gained information from the MoFA secretary,he handed it over to the Socialist Party.
    2)Nishiyama also did not protect the identity of the source of information,thus the secretary was interrogated and spoke out everything.

    In my opinion,Nishiyama didn’t follow simple journalistic ethics.Always keep your information to yourself and never disclose the indentity of your source.

    What would happen if Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein take his info from the Deep Throat to the Democratic party BEFORE he publish them in WaPO and Mark Felt got arrested because of that?

    On Sengoku38
    First of all,the guy in question Sengoku38 is a coast guard man who have right to arrest someone and a public servant.His proffesional ethics should be different from that of journalist.

    Secondly,Uesugi has been accusing public prosecutors “leaking”information to the press.But it’s OK to leak it on Youtube?

    Uesugi just has too much obsession with criticism on kisha clubs and sometimes turns blind.
    A: Excellent point about Uesugi’s complaining about the public prosecutor leaks.

    Disagree about sengoku 38. BTW, Mark Felt was #2 at the FBI when he passed on the Watergate information, so he too was a public servant with the right to arrest someone.

    – A.

  4. Aceface said

    That’s what I meant.Mark Felt used to work for Edgar J.Hoover.If Felt had exposed everything by himself or had his indentitly came out into open,people would have thought that the leak is threat to the democracy because this is exactly the way Hoover had kept his power and position as the head of FBI.

    Watergate became success story of all time simply because
    1)People got used to leak from inside thanks to the previous coverage on Pentagon Papers in NYT.
    2)What Nixon did was clearly a threat to the American democracy,thus getting leaked info from the ex-right handman of Hoover was lesser evil.
    3)WaPO had managed to keep Felt silent.
    A: I think the case could easily be made that concealing the videos of the Senkakus incident is much more dangerous to Japanese democracy and the people’s right to know than the GOP bugging Democratic party headquarters was to American democracy. (Other presidents had done similar things, including FDR.)

    Besides, there have been a few books since then suggesting that John Dean ordered the break in to find out about a call girl ring that his girlfriend and later wife might have been involved in. There have been a lot of lawsuits and stories about Felt (he once claimed Deep Throat was someone else, Woodward got stories from several people, and that he just confirmed them.)

    – A.

  5. Aceface said

    “concealing the videos of the Senkakus incident is much more dangerous to Japanese democracy and people’s right to know”

    I disagree,for what sengoku38 had leaked on youtube is everything the government had already made public.hence nothing new to add.
    Dude! So you–a member of the media–thinks it is just the citizens’ duty to believe everything the government says, because we know that everything the government says is true?

    Is everything the government says about this incident true, including that they had no involvement whatsoever in the decision to release the Chinese ship captain?

    It was also important for an international audience, particuarly in China, because the Chinese were publicizing a very different story.

    – A

  6. Tony said

    I agree with Aceface on this point. If sengoku38 had quite his job and then leaked the video I would see it differently. But when a person in his position, same for the self-defence forces, takes actions into their own hands to force the government to do something they have crossed the rubicon of what is acceptable. Allowing this is a slippery slope where another JCG or SDF member does something that CAN harm the interests of Japan just because they think it is the right thing to do. Just because this one example doesn’t really harm the interests of Japan (possibly a questionable claim in itself but one that I believe) doesn’t make it right for the JCG officer to do so.

  7. Aceface said

    “Dude! So you–a member of the media–thinks it is just the citizens’ duty to believe everything the government says, because we know that everything the government says is true?”

    Well,it was the very government is the one who informed us on the incident and the detain of the ship and the crew.
    Personally,I believe Kan should have showed all the video to public.But when and how and to what extent should have been debated in diet first,instead of being decided by some JCG officer who ignores the chain of command.

    “Is everything the government says about this incident true, including that they had no involvement whatsoever in the decision to release the Chinese ship captain?”

    While that is directly related to the incident itself,has little connection with the content of the video being leaked by sengoku38,No?
    They did discuss in the Diet, and the government finally showed about 7 minutes of several hours. According to at least one person who saw it, at least one of the scenes didn’t show the actual moment of collision itself when the camera pointed away. If true, that stinks of cover-up.

    If the opposition complains, what’s going to happen? The DPJ MPs are going to revolt and vote themselves out of office? Of course not.

    That is about 100 times more dangerous for democracy than one Coast Guard sailor taking matters into his own hands. Governments that behave like that deserve whatever they get.

    – A

  8. Aceface said

    “They did discuss in the Diet, and the government finally showed about 7 minutes of several hours.”

    It’s two hours,actually.
    What I meant is either the video would be shown to the closed circles or full open disclosure,it should have been debated at the diet,instead of one guy take justice into his own hand.After all,the politicians are being elected to make judgement on the matter as such,not the coast guard officer.

    “If the opposition complains, what’s going to happen?”

    Full disclosure of video,perhaps?

    BTW,Shukan Gendai exposed the name of sengoku38.

  9. Tony said

    We’re quibbling here. In this instance it “may” have been more dangerous for democracy for a government to behave as they have. But they are elected officials and will be voted out. The JCG, police and SDF have to be held to a higher standard. In fact, history is chalk full of examples when quasi-police or military individuals have taken matters into their own hand much to the detriment of the nation. Once these organizations start doing what they “believe” is in the best interests of the country then there is no longer a democracy. It has effectively been usurped by that organization. That is the danger.

  10. sai said


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  17. PaxAmericana said

    re: concealing the videos

    Tony and Aceface,

    The argument that releasing info or whistleblowing could get out of hand in Japan seems to go a bit far. The problems that come from inadequate release of info currently seem huge. Not that there wouldn’t be a long-term danger.

    Since we are discussing long-term problems, who will guard us from our guardians? If policemen or politicians see something wrong, how are they supposed to rectify things? The cozy cartel/club/dango system here is probably the biggest reason things are sinking.

  18. Aceface said

    I kinda disagree.If club usually gets all these information.What Uesugi is complaining is he couldn’t get them while he was working for NYT and now as being freelance.

  19. Tony said

    Sorry Pax, can’t even remotely agree with you on that. No democratic country allows the police, coast guard and army to make decisions against the government’s orders. If the gov’t is poor then it is the public’s responsibility to vote them out. That is how it works in any other democracy and for good reason.

    The argument isn’t that whistle blowing can get out of hand. It’s these organizations have to be held to a higher standard where they cannot “blow the whistle” on matters that can affect the diplomacy of the country. Where does one draw the line? It becomes a slippery slope and the only watch dog is the organization itself, not the government or some other outside organization. That is a recipe for disaster somewhere down road.

    As I said earlier, I would have had little problem if sengoku38 had resigned his commission and then leaked the information as a civilian. He didn’t do that and as a result tarnished the reputation and honor of the entire coast guard.

  20. PaxAmericana said


    What difference does it make if he resigned? He got the info while in government service, thus breaking whatever oaths he took. The security oaths that I’m familiar with in the US require some period of time, from 30 years or more.

    And voting doesn’t work. A Japanese citizen has had no practical way of changing the bureaucracy, which runs Japan.

    To answer your concern about whistleblowing getting out of hand, the restraint is public opinion, or at least ‘masugomi’ opinion. I know that isn’t sufficient, but there is no easy way to deal with institutionalized cover-ups. If government diplomacy can’t withstand the light of day, perhaps it needs to be rethought.

  21. Tony said

    The difference is simple. He resigns because he feels he cannot tolerate the situation but still respects the rules and chain of command of the organization he belongs to. He takes his job seriously and upon deep reflection feels it is the honorable thing to do.

    He doesn’t resign but he is angry at the government and doesn’t care how his actions will affect his superiors, their careers, and the overall image of the organization he belongs to.

    As for public opinion being the restraint for whistle blowing getting out of hand. That would only work if a Japanese citizen had a practical way of changing the bureaucracy, which you have said they don’t.

    By the way, this was no “institutional cover-up”. There was no cover-up. We all knew that the the Chinese fishing boat purposely rammed two JCG ships. We also knew that the gov’t screwed up their handling of the situation. The video, once leaked, only showed what we all had already known and what we were told the government you’ve said was “covering up”. As I said, there was no cover up but rather this just another example of how incredibly unprepared and inept this current cabinet is able to govern.

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  23. Uesugi Takashi on sengoku 38 and the Japanese media « AMPONTAN

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