Japan from the inside out

Archive for the ‘Mass media’ Category

Ichigen koji (275)

Posted by ampontan on Monday, December 31, 2012

– A person who has something to say about everything

A certain media outlet asked me to review some book about the South Korean presidential election. When I asked them if I could choose the book to review, they told me to choose whichever book I liked from my perspective. When I asked them if they would accept a book with a slanted viewpoint, they said that would be fine. I accepted the job on those terms. But then they told me I couldn’t use the book I selected.

– Kimura Kan, Kobe University professor

Posted in Mass media, Quotations, South Korea | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Ichigen koji (264)

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, December 19, 2012

– A person who has something to say about everything

I’ve never watched a political discussion program on television. In the past, I had to put together so many those programs I grew to hate it. That’s because nowhere else will you hear conversations with so little content and so much insincerity.

– Ikeda Nobuo, former NHK producer

Posted in Mass media, Politics, Quotations | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Ichigen koji  (263)

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, December 18, 2012

– A person who has something to say about everything

Most of the Anglosphere media refers to Japan’s Land Self-Defense Forces as the Army, and the Maritime Self-Defense Forces as the Navy. That’s probably to make it easier for their readers. Why then do they so faithfully use the formal name of the People’s Liberation Army for the Chinese forces?

– The Tweeter known as Aceface

Posted in China, Mass media, Military affairs, Quotations | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Ichigen koji (262)

Posted by ampontan on Monday, December 17, 2012

– A person who has something to say about everything

If I were to write that “orthodox economists tell Mr. Abe (Shinzo) to stop his dangerous gamble”, some people would get angry and ask what orthodox is supposed to mean. What should I write then? The reaction would be even fiercer if I wrote “mainstream”. “Of sound mind” is also probably out of the question. People might get angry even if I wrote “economists who have received proper academic training”.

– Ushioda Michio

Posted in Business, finance and the economy, Mass media, Quotations | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

The Japanese public doesn’t trust their media, either

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A public interest corporation whose name translates to the Newspaper and Telecommunications Survey Association has conducted since 2008 an annual survey of households nationwide to determine the level of trust Japanese have in newspapers and television. The results this year, according to the Nikkan Gendai website, show the lowest level of trust ever recorded.

The subjects of the September survey were 5,000 men and women 18 years of age and older. The corporation received replies from 3,404 of them.

Here’s the average level of points they awarded to the different media outlets on a scale of 1-100:

NHK: 70.1

Newspapers: 68.9

Private sector television: 60.3

These figures were from 3.5 to 4.2 points lower than last year. As the website pointed out, that means 30-40% of the public doesn’t trust the news media.

Singled out by the respondents as being particularly untrustworthy was the print media’s reporting on the nuclear accident at Fukushima. A total of 63.1% of the respondents agreed with the statement that the newspapers merely parroted the information provided by the government, government agencies, and the power companies. That figure was higher than the 57% who thought the facts were accurately reported.

The public was also disdainful of the newspapers’ political reporting. Only 25.5% of the respondents agreed with the statement that the newspapers deal fairly with the claims of political parties when those claims differ, and only 24.5% of them thought that reporters maintained an appropriate distance from politicians.

The site asked the former chairman of the Japan Congress of Journalists and University of Tokyo Prof. Katsura Keiichi for his opinions:

It is clear that the Fukushima nuclear accident last March was the turning point for growing distrust of the media. When they reflected on the circumstances of the accident, many people noticed that the media was as much a part of the problem as the government or Tokyo Electric.

It is also clear that their coverage of the consumption tax increase and social welfare policies generally followed the government line, and people understood they were irresponsible not to listen carefully to the views of younger people, who would bear the heaviest burden of these policies. Their election coverage consists of a big hullabaloo over the so-called Third Forces. The more normal and serious a person is, the less they’re interested in him.

While most of that commentary hits the mark, the last two sentences underscore another reason the public distrusts newspapers. It has become SOP for them to include the observations of an academic class of royal purveyors to His Majesty’s Scriveners that allows them a clear path to editorialize while pretending to play it straight. Everyone knows that academics are impartial seekers of the truth as blind to subjective interest as the Roman goddess Justitia, right?

Those two sentences reveal Prof. Katsura as a man of system. There’s a reason the Japanese public is interested in the Third Forces beyond their entertainment value. That interest is in directly proportion to their distrust of the political establishment, which, for the past five administrations, has blatantly ignored their wishes.


It is worthy of note that NHK topped the list. More than a few Japanese have long held the view that the tone of the quasi-government broadcaster has generally been friendly to China and colder to the United States.

An exception I’ve noticed recently is NHK’s coverage of the Obama administration. It is only slightly less worshipful than that of the mainstream broadcast media in the US.

Posted in Mass media | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

A revealing dialogue

Posted by ampontan on Monday, December 3, 2012


AS Japan’s lower house election approaches, some affairs are becoming more opaque rather than more lucid. As an example, here’s an excerpt of dialogue at a news conference between Tanaka Ryusaku of the Free Press Association of Japan and Japan Restoration Party standard bearer Ishihara Shintaro.

Tanaka: The election campaign promises of Japan Restoration Party include the relaxation of prohibitions on dismissing employees and the elimination of the minimum wage. Already, more than 30% of workers are not regular employees, and more than half of them make less than JPY two million a year. If Japan Restoration’s policies are implemented, won’t they lose their bread and their homes?

Ishihara: The people in Osaka (Mayor Hashimoto and Gov. Matsui) are thinking very hard, but they are still immature in some areas…They established several categories for the framework of their promises, and then decided to debate them with everyone later.

Tanaka: There’s a limit to naïve innocence.

Ishihara: That’s right. When (Hashimoto) said he would release his political promises in a 10-page document, I told him to stop. “You’ve written a lot of them, but some parts of it are too principled, and they’ll be impossible to achieve. “ It’s just as you (Tanaka) say.

Tanaka: That’s because Takenaka (Heizo) wrote them.

Ishihara: That’s right (nods). I don’t like Takenaka. (Room explodes with laughter.) You can see that he wrote all of them (the promises). He’s just one of the seducers.

Tanaka: Isn’t that just the same as the Koizumi reforms that wrecked Japan?

Ishihara: He trusts Takenaka too much. I’ve told him to stop. He’s like a god to them. Even his advisor Sakaiya Taiichi has his doubts. Maybe they won’t let him speak out. He’s critical of Takenaka.

Tanaka: This will tarnish your twilight years.

Ishihara: I won’t let that happen.

Serious commentary on this excerpt could run much longer than the excerpt itself, but I’ll be concise as possible.

* The rebuttal from some quarters was immediate. They said the idea that Mr. Takenaka wrote all of Japan Restoration’s policies was nonsense. They also said this brought into question the wisdom of installing Mr. Ishihara as party head if he has so little idea of what’s going on within the party.

The Hashimoto-Ishihara merger works only if the Ishihara faction gets out of the way in the next year or two after accelerating the trend to constitutional reform.

* It is true that Mr. Ishihara and his ally Hiranuma Takeo detest the Koizumi reforms, but that is to their detriment. Hashimoto Toru has spoken highly of them.

* If Japan (or any country) were serious about getting their economic house in order, they could choose no better stewards of the process than Mr. Koizumi or Mr. Takenaka. Then again, some people in Britain are still upset that Margaret Thatcher healed the Sick Man of Europe.

* So much of basic economics is counterintuitive. Here’s one example. If Mr. Tanaka were really interested in increasing employment, he would support both the elimination of the minimum wage and make it easier to dismiss employees. Both the minimum wage and restrictions on dismissal prevent people from being employed to begin with. (France is an excellent example of the latter.)

* Mr. Tanaka neglects to provide detailed information on those non-permanent employees making less than JPY two million a year. How many of them are housewives working to supplement the family income? How many are unskilled young adult women living with their parents (while working at a convenience store, for example)? How many are recently divorced unskilled young adult women with a high school education?

* The Free Press Association of Japan was formed with the admirable intent to deregulate the dissemination of information by countering the kisha club system of reporters, which is tantamount to an information cartel. Unfortunately, advocacy journalism by unlettered ideologues incapable of extended linear thought is not the way to achieve that. The behavior of Mr. Tanaka at this news conference more closely resembles a polemicist than a journalist.

The “explosive laughter” recorded after Mr. Ishihara’s comment about Takenaka Heizo tells us all we need to know about the other free pressers in attendance.

* The director of the association is freelance journalist Uesugi Takashi. He was once the go-fer/translator for the New York Times’ correspondent in Tokyo, and later became closely associated with the Democratic Party of Japan. His campaign advertising for the DPJ in 2009 masquerading as journalism for weekly and monthly magazines is still entertaining to read. All the things he said would happen never did.

I haven’t followed the story too closely, but Mr. Uesugi has been savaged on the Japanese Internet for his anti-nuclear power reporting in the wake of the Fukushima accident. Apparently, one of his favorite investigative techniques is “making stuff up”. He will win no plaudits in Japan for impartiality or credibility.


The most recent Kyodo poll has the LDP in the lead for party preference with 18%, followed by Japan Restoration at 10% and the currently ruling DPJ at 9%. The new Japan Frontier anti-everything party created by Ozawa Ichiro and Kamei Shizuka and fronted by Shiga Governor Kada Yukiko polls only 3%.

Posted in Mass media, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

You really don’t know?

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, December 1, 2012

EARLIER this week, we saw that NHK-TV chose not to invite any K-pop performers to appear on its famous New Year’s Eve program, Kohaku Uta Gassen. Four K-pop groups appeared last year.

This seems to have upset the three major South Korean newspapers.

The Joongan-Ilbo charged that they were deliberately excluded, and asked:

Is it really not related to the Dokdo (Takeshima) problem?

They added that the groups who appeared on last year’s show were more popular in Japan this year. Shojo Jidai and KARA sold more than 100,000 albums and received gold discs from the Recording Industry Association of Japan

They also didn’t find the NHK explanation very convincing.

The Chosun Ilbo asked:

Why the declaration of a boycott of South Korean singers?

Note the typical exaggeration — one program on one network constitutes a “boycott”.

The Dong-a Ilbo also complained about the “exclusion” of K-pop singers.

The exaggerated posturing impresses no one but themselves. Of course it’s about Takeshima. And President Lee’s statements about the Emperor. And the continued decades of obnoxious behavior of many South Koreans toward Japan that they’re now exporting to unrelated countries. They put up absurd propaganda billboards in Times Square and expect Japan to turn the other cheek?

And be allowed to appear on the quasi-governmental television network as if nothing happened?

The thread has been broken, and they’re the ones who broke it.

Meanwhile, it is still against the law for a Japanese performer to appear on South Korean terrestrial television at all — yet the Korean media gets enuretic when Korean singers are not included on one Japanaese television program.

It’s time for some people in South Korea to get over themselves.

But that would be too much to ask, wouldn’t it?

Posted in I couldn't make this up if I tried, International relations, Mass media, Popular culture, South Korea | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

The end of analysis as we know it

Posted by ampontan on Friday, November 30, 2012

DO editors have any real standards to determine whom they will select to write articles about Japan? Field-specific expertise certainly isn’t a requirement. If anything, field-specific expertise about Japan seems to be a negative attribute in the selection process.

Here we go again: Someone calling himself Chan Akya wrote an article titled The End of Japan as We Know it for the peculiar Asia Times website. (That site offers columns by the excellent David Goldman, AKA Spengler, regular pieces from a North Korean propagandist, and nothing of value about Japan.) The author’s noisy parade of ignorance is amplified by an infatuation with his prose and inner dialogue. That makes this analysis particularly difficult to wade through.

He even presents us with the intellectual’s version of “some of my best friends are Japanese”:

At many levels, I have a deep admiration for the Japanese people; their work ethic, aesthetic values and personal discipline all set them apart from the globalized mainstream.

That deep admiration unfortunately did not inspire him to learn anything about the country.

He begins with a discussion of Keynesian economics and the series of budget deficits the country has run since the late 90s. While that is true enough, there is no mention of the collapse of the bubble economy in the early 90s, the resultant problem with the non-performing debt held by financial institutions, and the role of the five-year Koizumi administration, particularly Takenaka Heizo, to prevent the problems from overwhelming the financial industry, and to drastically reduce the annual budget deficit. While the Japanese political class since then has failed to uphold its fiduciary responsibility, the economy has not been the unending dismal swamp that most people outside the country think it is.

Exacerbating the current situation in Japan is the collapse in the political system where, yet again, a coalition government is set to fail and new elections announced in December. Alternatively one could argue that political paralysis, much like in the case of the US and Europe’s lame duck governments, is merely the populist rendition of a sclerotic economy. The reason for the linkage of course is that the Japan is the living (ahem, some may argue that point) embodiment of the situation where the turkeys not only outvoted thanksgiving, they also allocated all the gravy to themselves.

Every word in that paragraph is wrong, including the a’s, an’s, and the’s. (Ahem yourself; don’t even think about going there on this with me.) An earlier unquoted passage, by the way, makes it clear he’s referring to the voters as turkeys.

Here’s what he doesn’t know:

* The Japanese political system is not collapsing. It would be easy to make the case that it is healthier than the political system in the United States. People who rely on the usual inadequate Anglosphere sources and who think the national legislature constitutes the entire political system cannot be expected to understand this. How unfortunate that they cannot be expected to refrain from writing about it.

* The voters have been expressing for years exactly what they want, and what they have wanted is massive central government reform. That is not easy to achieve in any system with its encrusted vested interests, nor is their fault that they haven’t received it. This election will be just the latest in a series of monumental exercises in throwing the bums out. That line about “the turkeys outvoting Thanksgiving” (of course!)? It is tantamount to a public declaration of a functional illiteracy of matters Japanese in general, and trends among the electorate, sub-national politics, and the perpetual battle with the bureaucracy in particular.

* This was a coalition government in only the most technical sense of the term — the remaining party in the coalition has fewer than 10 Diet members. The coalition was formed with two mini-parties solely to pass legislation in the upper house. It was a Democratic Party of Japan government. Period.

The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has done all the usual gimmicks – promises of more subsidies, the vaguely worded reforms and of course obligatory visits to the Yasukuni shrine designed to get geriatric Samurai warrior votes on its side…

Isn’t he the clever wordsmith? Yasukuni shrine visits didn’t hurt Mr. Koizumi with the non-geriatric non-samurai independent voters, but what he doesn’t know about this issue would fill several books. Included in that lack of knowledge is that none of the LDP successors of Mr. Koizumi made any of the “of course obligatory” visits to Yasukuni. Incidentally, since the LDP promises have yet to be translated into English, he can’t be expected to know their content, either.

…with the active support of the farming and construction lobbies it appears that the LDP is headed back to power albeit in a coalition framework.

Were the author able to read Japanese, I could recommend several books and articles about how these special interest groups no longer have the electoral strength they once did. He would need to read at least one article on how the farming lobby supported the DPJ in the last lower house election, but all of that would be chanting sutras into a horse’s ear.

We do not know yet how the incumbent Democratic Party of Japan is likely to fare…

Yes we do. The possibilities range from bad to near extinction.

…so convoluted are the fortunes of the party when examined against the popularity of its individual politicians.

Apart from its incoherence, the full sentence is an astonishing display of ignorance. The unpopularity of all three individual DPJ prime ministers is remarkable for its depth and the intensity of emotion it generates. It aligns almost perfectly with the unpopularity of the party as a group.

After trying various approaches, the party has now settled itself on the bandwagon of expanding the middle classes – presumably through more tax breaks and other ideas that run counter to the current orthodoxy around value-added taxes; however the party led by the outgoing prime minister has also embarked on a controversial policy to secure funding for grandiose construction projects with the issue of bonds to which it would like the Bank of Japan to directly subscribe.

The party that is making news and causing controversy because it wants the BOJ to subscribe to construction bonds is the LDP — the opposition party. While it is true the DPJ can’t provide a full accounting of the funds for Tohoku relief and reconstruction, that is due to their incompetence and inability to say no to the bureaucracy.

“Presumably through tax breaks”? The DPJ was the engine that drove the increase in the consumption tax increase from 5-10%, and they’re also engineering increases in income and inheritance taxes. One who presumes to have the knowledge required to write an op-ed about Japan should know that.

Or that Japan doesn’t have a value-added tax, assuming that’s what that reference is all about.

At long last he gets down and dirty:

At the other end of the spectrum, the right wing has become more active with the triumvirate of Shintaro Ishihara and Takeo Hiranuma’s the Sunrise Party and Toru Hashimoto’s Resurrection Party. All the politicians in the triumvirate have a somewhat unfortunate history of egging on xenophobic tendencies; the triumphalism of Ishihara in the late ’80s with his call for Japan to become more assertive against the US; and the unfortunate racial stereotypes he espoused which brought to mind the propaganda of Goebbels have not been forgotten yet anywhere in Asia or the US.

Get used to this. You’re going to be seeing so much of this bologna in the future, it won’t be possible to slice it all — even the small end that isn’t past its sell-by date. Notice how he dodges the commitment to call them Nazis or fascists: it “brings to mind the propaganda of Goebbels”.

Having spent some time studying the content of German propaganda, and much more time studying Japanese politics and politicians, I can say this comparison would occur only to those people whose minds are bent into a distinctive warp. This calls for the invocation of Godwin’s Law. He loses.

* Messrs. Ishihara and Hiranuma have had “a somewhat unfortunate” (sic) history of egging on xenophobic tendencies, but neither of them will be pinning yellow and pink identification badges on non-Japanese or stuffing them into ovens. Mr. Ishihara’s electoral success over the years originates in the name recognition value of being the first prominent celebrity politician in Japan. That success is by no means automatic; the party both these men formed for the 2010 upper house elections flopped badly. Their alliance with Mr. Hashimoto has nothing to do with xenophobia and everything to do with domestic considerations. The people who vote for them will not be driven to do so for xenophobic reasons.

Incidentally, the author also refers in another section to “a horrifying collapse in exports” without mentioning that it was attributable almost entirely to a byproduct of Chinese xenophobia and ethnocentrism.

* Hashimoto Toru’s party has an official English name: Japan Restoration Party. Evidently he can’t be bothered to spend 10 seconds to visit their website and get it right.

I would be curious to learn more of Mr. Hashimoto’s history of xenophobia that the author alleges. The Osaka mayor is a one-man political content provider. He’s written several books and is the world’s leading political Tweeter (95+% of which is related to political discussions and debates), so it’s difficult to keep up, but I can’t remember seeing anything overtly xenophobic. That includes the content of a website of a virulent “it’s positive to be negative” leftist Brit who slapped together a collection of unpleasant Hashimoto statements.

* As for the call for Japan to become more assertive against the US, that has little to with either the right wing or xenophobia. Japanese throughout the political spectrum have been growing weary of that shotgun wedding of convenience, and that trend is accelerating as the people who were children in the early postwar years head into retirement.

It is also worthy of note there is no mention of the fact that a large share of the incumbent Democratic Party of Japan membership consists of global governance types who think the nation-state is an anachronism. If that’s the context, perhaps what most people would consider normal patriotism would be seen as xenophobia.

Take stock for a moment: an ancient political party that seems hopelessly anachronistic, an incumbent political party that appears altogether confused, a right-wing organization that is built on idolizing an extinct past; does anyone hear the faint echoes from the future of other democracies in Europe and perhaps the US?

Yes, let’s take stock. The ancient political party is all of 57 years old. The name of the “right-wing organization” whose name he can’t get right is not built on idolizing an extinct past. Their original motivation is the decentralization of government and the regional devolution of authority. That none of them “idolize an extinct past” demonstrates the author is either making stuff up or listening to people who are making stuff up. In a Japanese context that party’s core domestic reform agenda is fresher and more forward-looking than any major political party in the US or Western Europe. (It is also a full-fledged party, not an “organization.”)

Again, the only people hearing “echoes from the future” are those whose minds are bent into a distinctive warp, anxious to seem perceptive by blindly setting up a comparison with anti-immigrant parties in Europe that the media mistakenly refers to as “right wing”. (Most of them are really Big Statists, from what I can see.)

It cannot be emphasized too strongly:

Conditions in Japan do not and will not resemble those in any European country, nor conform to the illusions of drive-by Western commentators.

But enough of this; the rest of his analysis is based on conjecture just as foamy. (He too quickly accepts the idea that Japan has renounced nuclear energy; I wouldn’t be too cocksure about that. It doesn’t bode well for the movement that Hashimoto Toru has left it and Kamei Shizuka and Ozawa Ichiro have joined it.)

My thinking is quite simply that Japan has reached an economic point of no-return; this will be now played out politically to provide a dignified burial of the country’s ambitions.

Through a stroke of synchronicity, the following article appeared on the same day as this op-ed:

The first of a new generation of high-speed, magnetic levitation trains has been unveiled in Japan, designed to operate at speeds of more than 310 mph…

Designed by Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Tokai), the state-of-the-art trains are scheduled to go into use in 2027 and link Shinagawa Station, in central Tokyo, with Nagoya.

At present, it takes 90 minutes for a conventional “shinkansen” bullet train to complete the journey between the two stations, but the new technology will cut the trip to 40 minutes.

The vehicle has no wheels – doing away with friction and, hence, providing a smoother and quieter ride at a faster speed – and is propelled along a track through electromagnetic pull.

That’s just 15 years away.

Japan will be the first nation to build a large-scale maglev route and hopes to be able to export the technology once it has been perfected.

And I expect they will be successful.

Had Chan Akya or the media’s editorial class known the ABCs of political conditions in Japan, the electorate’s intense interest in reform and readiness to punish politicians who lack that interest, and indeed, the capacity for innovation and survival of actors in the free market system in general and the Japanese in particular, this article would never have been written, much less been published.

How unlucky for us.

My thinking is that chances are very good Japan will survive the coming Dark Ages better than either the United States or most of the EU. That round red sun is more likely to be rising than setting.

Posted in Business, finance and the economy, Government, Mass media, Politics, Social trends | Tagged: , | 4 Comments »

Inaccuracies in image and language

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, November 24, 2012

LAW professor/blogger Ann Althouse picked up a post from The Tokyo Reporter about the Tokyo police objecting to the publication in the weeklies Shukan Post and Shukan Gendai of photos of the Great Wall of Vagina by British artist Jamie McCartney. The great wall is “a series of rows of white plaster casts of the genitals of 400 women”.

The wall itself is the sort of vapid nonsense people in the West enjoy amusing themselves with these days (cf. Vagina Monologues, lady parts, etc.), but Ms. Althouse’s short post is worth reading for two reasons.

The first is that she writes:

The description is accurate but fails to mention how artistic it is.

The line has a link to pictures of the wall panels that makes it clear her comment is ironic.

Of course McCartney can’t understand it. Of course. He was quoted elsewhere as saying:

Japan is a sophisticated and forward-looking culture that should be able to accept all forms of creative expression. The purpose of the artwork is not to be sexually arousing but instead to be educational and alleviate the unnecessary anxiety many women feel about their genitals.

Isn’t it interesting how often people such as McCartney unwittingly parody themselves? Creative expression as psychological education, eh? Perhaps the sophisticated and forward-looking Japanese don’t consider vagina walls to be creative expression. But the less publicity given to this latter-day Barnum, the better.

Here’s the second Althouse observation:

I’m sorry to be pedantic, but don’t say “vagina” for “vulva.” I’m not concerned about obscenity. It’s the false advertising that bothers me. This is “Decorously Framed Vulva,” not “Great Wall of Vagina.”

Just as inaccurate is the The Tokyo Reporter’s description of the two magazines as “weekly tabloids”. Snort.

Tabloid is the term used to describe the form of certain types of newspapers. They are narrower and smaller than the conventional broadsheets. TTR here is using the term inaccurately to describe the magazines’ content. For example:

Tabloids also tend to be more irreverent and slangy in their writing style than their more serious broadsheet brothers. In a crime story, a broadsheet refers to a police officer, while the tabloid calls him a cop. And while a broadsheet might spend dozens of column inches on “serious” news – say, a major bill being debated in Congress – a tabloid is more likely to zero in on a heinous sensational crime story or celebrity gossip.

In fact, the word tabloid has come to be associated with the kind of supermarket checkout aisle papers – such as the National Enquirer – that focus exclusively on splashy, lurid stories about celebrities.

That highlights a problem with both the American image and the description of the Japanese magazines. For the first:

But there’s an important distinction to be made here. True, there are the over-the-top tabloids like the Enquirer, but there are also the so-called respectable tabloids – such as the New York Daily News, the Chicago Sun-Times, the Boston Herald and so on – that do serious, hard-hitting journalism. In fact, the New York Daily News has won 10 Pulitzer Prizes, print journalism’s highest honor.

There’s the second inaccuracy in the TTR description. Japan’s kisha club system for reporters means that journalists working for the respectable daily press are sometimes de facto prevented from writing stories they’d like to write because they might upset the political class, particularly the ruling party. Failing to conduct self-censorship could result in being cut out of the news loop.

But the Japanese print media devised a solution for that long ago: weekly magazines. Those publications are both a type of samizdat press and a proto-print Internet featuring information that the newspapers avoid. Indeed, some of them are published by the major newspaper companies, so they have direct access to that information.

As for the Shukan Post and Shukan Gendai, I’ve read articles in both magazines on political and social topics that were better researched and contained more useful information than many similar articles that appeared in Time or Newsweek during their heydays.

True, each issue is likely to include articles with showbiz gossip or content that appeals to the prurient interest. Some also have sexually suggestive comics and Playboy-type nude spreads. This week’s issue of Shukan Gendai, for example, has a group interview with some women discovering how to use dildoes — but that’s on page 172.

The magazines are also the occasional target of lawsuits. Based on observation over the years, however, it seems they usually win the ones brought by politicians. They more often lose the ones in which a celebrity is the plaintiff.

Thus, to dismiss them as tabloids in the pejorative sense is to do them a disservice. They’re much more than that, and it’s not possible to describe them using any single English word I can think of.

The irony is rich. The Tokyo Reporter website consists entirely of content that he used the word tabloid to describe. Perhaps he should start reading some of those articles he skips over in the weeklies to get to the stories that he prefers.


Posted in Arts, I couldn't make this up if I tried, Mass media | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

Subliminal images, superliminal odors

Posted by ampontan on Monday, November 19, 2012

Earlier this week, NHK announcer Morimoto Takeshige was arrested for giving a woman an unwanted chest massage on a train. The story was covered on Friday by the Tokyo Broadcasting System (TBS ) morning television show hosted by Mino Monta. During the broadcast, this and a few other unrelated images of Liberal Democratic Party President Abe Shinzo were inserted into the story.

The caption at the top right is in regard to the sexual harassment story, while the vertical white lettering below it identifies Abe Shinzo.

Mr. Abe was told about it and wrote the following on his Facebook page.

“That was exactly the same day the Diet was dissolved.

“Hasn’t the negative campaigning already begun?

“If this were an accident, they should have approached me to apologize, but they haven’t done a thing.

“One of the female announcers on the program later said, ‘We broadcast an unrelated image just a little while ago. We’re very sorry.’

“When I was campaigning for the LDP presidency, TBS tried to manipulate public opinion with a malicious subliminal message by intentionally inserting my photograph in the middle of a report about Unit 731.

“For the next month, this sort of battle will be waged with the mass media. I will fight this together with you.”

The Japanese word for the mass media is masu komi, which is short for mass communications. The Japanese word for garbage is gomi, and people began substituing mass gomi for mass komi long ago.

It’s an international phenomenon of garbage, isn’t it? But the thinking public has known that for years, so it doesn’t come as a surprise.

The surprise is that they all wear the garbage on their lapels as a badge of honor.


Speaking of Unit 731, the Chinese have just applied to have the former site placed on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list. (It was based in China.)

When the Japanese made the same application for the A-bomb dome (ruins) in Hiroshima, the Chinese were opposed.

Posted in Mass media, Politics | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Dead to rights

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, November 7, 2012

AN earlier post explained that Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru wanted to eliminate the city’s funding for the Osaka Human Rights Museum. He was able to achieve that objective not long ago. Here’s the report on his success from the Yonhap news agency of South Korea, put into English.

Right-wing Japanese politician and Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru said he will close down the Osaka Human Rights Museum, a comprehensive museum on human rights that includes displays on discrimination of Korean citizens born in Japan (zainichi).

According to the Kyodo news agency, Mayor Hashimoto, the head of the national Japan Restoration Party, announced his intention at a news conference to shut the museum and convert the facility into one providing education on modern history to young children.

Established in 1985, the museum has operated on admission fees, donations, and subsidies from the city of Osaka. The city will end the subsidies this year.

The Osaka Human Rights Museum has discrimination-related exhibits, primarily involving Japan, including those about the burakumin (Japan’s old “untouchable caste”). The comprehensive facility also has displays about discrimination against the zainichi.

Mayor Hashimoto’s view is that the museum could harm Japan’s image now that discrimination of this sort has been eliminated in the country, it is not desirable to continue supporting the museum with city funds, and that the museum has to be eliminated through a structural reorganization.

But residents who live near the museum, citizens’ groups, and people of conscience have objected, saying the decision is a reflection of Mayor Hashimoto’s right-wing views.

In regard to education in Japanese history, Mayor Hashimoto has said that “modern history is very weak”, which is “an evil resulting from having entrusted this education to the Ministry of Education.”

* Yes, this is what the South Korean news agency thinks is a straight news article. “Right wing”. “People of conscience”.

Then again, they’re in plenty of bad company with the Associated Press and Reuters.

* “Right-wingers” presumably aren’t interested in human rights and lack a conscience. That’s only a left-wing thing. Except they’ll self-identify as “moderates” instead.

Perhaps the Yonhappers actually believe this. Perhaps they’re using the functional definition of “right wing” as South Koreans apply it to the Japanese — those people unwilling to eternally prostrate themselves at their feet in obeisance to the Joseon history fun house mirror.

Or perhaps they’re using the functional defintion of “right wing” that most of the world’s mass media use: Society’s new untouchable caste.

* Yonhap couldn’t squeeze into its limited space the information that Mr. Hashimoto’s father’s family were probably burakumin, everyone in Japan knows it, and the people of Osaka voted for him anyway.

* The news agency does not disguise their real interest (apart from general Japan bashing): Advocacy of the zainichi, who, after all, intentionally choose to be foreigners in the country where they were born. Ein volk and all that.

* How hard can it be to report the truth? Today’s Japanese are tired of wearing the hair shirt before the world to atone for behavior they had nothing to do with. Too hard for Yonhap, evidently.

* There is nary a whisper of the fiscal crisis facing the national government and all local governments in Japan. The public sector can no longer afford luxury goods, especially those whose objective is to promote the professionally aggrieved who delight in the opportunity to show us how wonderful they are by showing us how terrible everyone else is and make some money while they’re at it.

Nor do they mention Mr. Hashimoto’s willingness to take on other interest groups and labor unions to bring some sanity to the city’s finances.

That said, a museum of modern history for children is also a luxury good. Mr. Hashimoto would be better off just cutting the funding and establishing his political identity through different means. He’s had no problem finding other ways to do that so far. It’s not his business if the museum is capable of surviving without government money.

* The museum still exists, as does its Japanese-language website. The first half of the top page is now occupied by an appeal for money. That appeal contains a passage worth translating:

“But our response to the complete elimination of the subsidies (asking for financial contributions) is not done in a negative sense. We hope to achieve self-sufficient operation by taking this opportunity to join with everyone to establish our financial autonomy and to devote even more strength to developing the museum in a positive way. In other words, our concept is to have a museum that is supported by people with an interest in human rights.”

By jingo, I think they’ve got it!

Posted in Foreigners in Japan, Government, Mass media, South Korea | Tagged: , , | 3 Comments »

Three articles

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, October 31, 2012

THIS post consists of excerpts from three newspaper articles whose importance is self-evident. They require little additional comment from me. I present them here to contribute to their greater circulation.

1. Pork in the name of the public good

The first article is a classic case of the blind pig finding a root. It was published by the Associated Press, and unlike most of their product these days, it’s actually worth reading. The title is Japan spent rebuilding money on unrelated projects. Who’d have thought! Well, anyone who’s followed the story of stimulus expenditures in the United States for the past few years, but I digress. Here we go:

About a quarter of the $148 billion budget for reconstruction after Japan’s March 2011 tsunami and nuclear disaster has been spent on unrelated projects, including subsidies for a contact lens factory and research whaling.

The findings of a government audit buttress complaints over shortcomings and delays in the reconstruction effort. More than half the budget is yet to be disbursed, stalled by indecision and bureaucracy, while nearly all of the 340,000 people evacuated from the disaster zone remain uncertain whether, when and how they will ever resettle.

Many of the non-reconstruction-related projects loaded into the 11.7 trillion yen ($148 billion) budget were included on the pretext they might contribute to Japan’s economic revival, a strategy that the government now acknowledges was a mistake.

Some people in Japan were aware this was happening from the start. They noticed that the commission appointed by the Democratic Party government to formulate a plan for reconstruction and recovery issued a report containing recommendations for programs that were cut-and-pasted from previous ministry requests.

In Japan, tax-and-spend government is driven primarily by the permanent bureaucracy rather than the politicians. The latter are either the enablers or the lobbyists for the ministries with which they are associated.

The only drawback to the AP article is the now-standard and usually unnecessary addition of comments from academics to buttress their point. They often miss the point entirely:

Masahiro Matsumura, a politics professor at St. Andrews University in Osaka, Japan, said justifying such misuse by suggesting the benefits would “trickle down” to the disaster zone is typical of the political dysfunction that has hindered Japan’s efforts to break out of two decades of debilitating economic slump.

“This is a manifestation of government indifference to rehabilitation. They are very good at making excuses,” Matsumura told The Associated Press.

This is really a manifestation of the inexorable and inevitable expansion of the public sector in any country. Give them the power to print and spend money, and they’ll work overtime to find ways to print and spend money. It’s not clear whether Prof. Matsumura was referring to the political class or the bureaucracy when he referred to “government”, because the word in this case applies to either or both.

Prime Minister Noda promised that unrelated projects would be “wrung out” of the budget, but his two DPJ predecessors, Hatoyama Yukio and Kan Naoto, made the same promises. Mr. Kan went so far as to say the budgets would be held upside down to shake out extra money until they got a nosebleed. That didn’t stop either of them from presenting and passing record-high budgets with record-high deficits. If anyone’s nose bled, they weren’t part of the public sector.

And Mr. Noda voted aye for those budgets, as well as this reconstruction budget. He didn’t know what was in it? He didn’t understand that they were wasting money?

But to ask the questions are to answer them.

2. Self-congratulation

The New York Times is congratulating itself for its recent expose of the finances of Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jibao and his family. The Times’ article charges that they’ve stashed away upwards of $US 2.7 billion. This post at the China Digital Times website quotes an article written for the Times’ sister-in-arms, the Guardian of Britain, that explains how wonderful it is the Gray Lady is practicing journalism again:

The Times’ story, by David Barboza, is the type of journalism that not only catches the powerful in flagrante delicto, but that revivifies the paper’s reason for being. This has not been a kind few years for the Times, with its management, its journalism, and its prospects, under constant and more often than not unflattering scrutiny. But a story like this is something of an instant brand turnaround.

The New York Times took on China and, in the first round, won. This being China, the Times will, surely, be engaged in a constant battle going forward – even, perhaps, a confrontation that defines the sides in some new international press battle. That will, no doubt, be to its short term economic disadvantage. But that is good news for the Times, too.

[…] The Times released dismal earnings yesterday and its stock dropped by more than 20%. But its real value took an incalculable leap today.

In other words, they think it was a triumph of investigative journalism.

But other people suspect they were being used as a mouthpiece. From the Epoch Times:

Controversy continues to simmer around last week’s lengthy New York Times exposé of the US$2.7 billion fortune that Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s family is said to have amassed. Critics have said the story was planted by Wen Jiabao’s political foes, while the New York Times has defended the integrity of the story.

In an Oct. 29 blog post, the Times reporter, David Barboza, addressed head on the claim that the story might have been given to him:

“I have read the speculation that some ‘insider’ gave me information, or that some enemies of the prime minister dropped off a huge box of documents at my office,” Barboza wrote. “That never happened. Not only were there no leaked documents, I never in the course of reporting met anyone who offered or hinted that they had documents related to the family holdings. This was a paper trail of publicly available documents that I followed with my own reporting.”

You can believe that, or you can believe this:

On Oct. 30, the Chinese website of the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle claimed Barboza would have had difficulty getting information about who are the members of Wen’s family, information needed in order to track the family members’ appearance in corporate documents:

“The head of a Chinese media outlet that reports on business who used to be an experienced investigative reporter told Deutsche Welle Chinese that information about family members for common Chinese can be found by checking the household register information.

“However, this household register system maintains strict confidentiality for information for Chinese Communist Party officials with rank above the provincial level. It is very difficult to obtain the names of the family members for a person who is a member of Politburo Standing Committee. Therefore, the NY Times should have gotten some kind of assistance, which could even be a systematic set of materials.”

New Tang Dynasty’s political commentator Wen Zhao commenting on the NY Times story said, “I don’t think this is something a private investigation or media outlet is capable of doing in China. No doubt about it, this kind of thorough investigation can only be conducted by people who control the secret police or secret agents in China.”

Their point is that the neo-Maoist, anti-reform hardliners in China associated with former President Jiang Zemin funneled the information to the Times as part of the ongoing political struggle in that country.

Whether that’s true or not — and we’re never going to know — the idea that people would use of the New York Times as an international mouthpiece is plausible. I’ve read articles in that newspaper about Japan that I would bet cash money were nothing more than rewritten talking points e-mailed by the DPJ government. Some of the information in those articles bore so little resemblance to actual conditions that it was risible.

3. China on the march

The final section is a compilation of of pieces. The first is a translation of a Yomiuri Shimbun article that appeared on the Web today. Here it is in its entirety:

Five Chinese Surveillance Ships in the Contiguous Waters of the Senkakus — For 12 Straight Days

Four Chinese maritime surveillance ships and one fishing surveillance ship entered the contiguous waters (22 kilometers) around the Senkaku islets yesterday morning. They continue to warn Japanese Coast Guard ships not to approach their territorial waters. This is the 12th straight day that Chinese surveillance ships have entered the contiguous waters.

The 11th District Coast Guard headquarters in Naha reported that four Chinese ships entered Japanese territorial waters on the morning of the 30th. After leaving in the afternoon, they remained in the contiguous waters. As of 9:00 a.m. on the 31st, the four ships were 31-33 kilometers to the southeast, while the fishery patrol boat was 28 kilometers northwest of Kubajima and headed in a south-southwesterly direction.

A Sankei Shimbun article yesterday provided a few more details:

One of the surveillance ships used an electronic bulletin board to transmit messages in Japanese and Chinese that read, “Your ship has entered Chinese territorial waters. Leave at once.”

Compared to some in the Anglosphere, the Japanese media is rather subdued. Try this piece from yesterday in the Financial Times (that might require registration).

The Chinese State Oceanic Administration – which enforces the nation’s maritime interests – said four of its ships on Tuesday tried to expel Japanese vessels out of waters where they were operating “illegally”.


Last month, Beijing announced a territorial baseline for the disputed islands that defined the exact geographical location of its claimed territory to back its long-standing claim.

“Chinese government vessels did not chase Japanese boats out of the islands’ territorial waters in the past, as these waters were an area controlled by the Japanese coastguard,” said Li Guoqiang, an expert on border issues at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. “But the situation changed when we created a legal basis for enforcing our claim by announcing the territorial baseline for the islands in September.”

It concludes:

Mr Li said the Chinese government was still restraining itself and would not lightly add to the tension. “But if the Japanese don’t change their ways and return to the path of negotiation, such friction could increase,” he said. “Then, it would not be a question of just four vessels but many more.”

On the one hand, it could be argued that the Japanese consider this to be Chinese bluster and see no need to make a big deal of it. On the other hand, it could also be argued that they are downplaying the situation to prevent the public from demanding that its government grow a made-in-Japan backbone.

In either case, it’s clear that the Chinese are engaging in international outlawry, are arrogant enough to press the legitimacy of this approach for their bogus claim overseas, and don’t seem concerned at all about what the United States might do.

The situation has the potential to become very ugly.

Posted in China, Government, International relations, Mass media, Military affairs, Politics | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

Ichigen koji  (215)

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, October 31, 2012

– A person who has something to say about everything

NHK warns that the rapid increase in “Twitter dependence” is dangerous. Much more dangerous than that is “NHK dependence”, which is the misconception that all the information presented by NHK is correct. It’s ironic that thanks to Twitter, “NHK dependence” has been drastically reduced.

– The Tweeter known as Tsugunosuke

Posted in Mass media, Quotations, Social trends | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

Ichigen koji(211)

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, October 28, 2012

– A person who has something to say about everything

■ “I have fantasized — don’t get me wrong — but that what if we could just be China for a day? I mean, just, just, just one day. You know, I mean, where we could actually, you know, authorize the right solutions . . .”

– New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman on “Meet the Press,” 23 May 2010

■ “China Blocks New York Times Website After Article”

-headline, Associated Press, 26 Oct. 2012

(Stolen from James Taranto at the Wall Street Journal. Here’s the reason for the ban.)

Posted in China, I couldn't make this up if I tried, Mass media | 1 Comment »

Ichigen koji (207)

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, October 24, 2012

– A person who has something to say about everything

A similar story is the mistaken reporting done about school textbooks, when articles claimed that the Ministry of Education had forced the publishers to change the word “invasion” (into Asia) to “advance”. Even though this was not true, it was reported by all the newspapers. As a result, it gained currency internationally as a “fact”, and had a negative impact on the textbook screening system and textbook content itself. Had there been an environment of oversight as there is now with the Net, this misunderstanding might have been corrected more quickly.

– Abiru Rui

Posted in Education, International relations, Mass media, Quotations, World War II | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »