Japanese: the international language for blogging

Japan’s garrulous bloggers go strangely silent

I perfectly understand how “mean” I was being by pointing out that 40% of Japan’s blogs are fake spam pages set up to take in ad revenue. But now that we know that the original Technorati blog count was fundamentally flawed, isn’t the following statement — published just yesterday — basically, “an intentional regurgitation of incorrect information to bolster the thesis”:

According to a State of the Live Web report by blog search engine Technorati, 37% of the world’s blogs are in Japanese, putting it ahead of English, on 36%, and making it the international language of blogging.

The author then states that “Doubts remain over how many Japanese blogs are actually spam sites,” which seems to be a strange hedge that basically accepts the original report. We are still supposed to walk away thinking that Japanese is the “international language for blogging,” which taken literally, means that Japanese is the central language for international blog culture. I ask non-rhetorically: are any bilingual Japanese-English net readers out there content with this statement?

As for the main point of upcoming government censorship, the Japanese state has always been seriously conflicted about the spread of the Internet in Japan. They dragged their feet on hooking Japan up to the Net (for more on this, read Japan and the Internet Revolution), so I don’t see why they would have any underlying ideological belief in keeping it unregulated.

W. David MARX
April 6, 2008

59 Responses

  1. ale/pepino Says:

    Oh and why should we care?

    I can’t think of anything interesting coming from comparing the two languages’ presence on the net.

    The blogs are different. The readership is different. What do you get by comparing them?

  2. LS Says:

    Right on … while we’re at it, let’s stop tracking the dollar’s exchange rate against the yen. That’s turning out to be pretty embarrassing.

  3. W. David MARX Says:

    As far as I know from a report I read in early 2007, the Dollar is the “international currency for finance.”

  4. LS Says:

    Turns out most of those were spam dollars.

  5. jjjjjj Says:

    What are the most popular blogs in Japan? Who keeps track of that? Is there something like a technorati for those sorts of things? goo.ne.jp?

    Is there a Japanese dailykos? A Tokyo-based city blog like gothamist?

  6. W. David MARX Says:

    I think Technorati’s Top 100 has some Japanese blogs on it like Gigazine (kind of boring tech-oriented blog). Actually, looking at it now, that’s the only Japanese blog in the Top 100. The Japanese version of Engadget (or was it the other one?) used to be on there. Maybe Japanese is such a “blogging language” that it surpasses any Technorati count.

    As far as I know, there is no Japanese dailykos nor any grass-roots political blogs with support over a wide spectrum of age groups. Don’t know what the equivalent of Gothamist would be. Aceface??

    Also, I read some Japanese entertainment gossip blogs, but they all seem to be very spam, click-ad oriented and the stories are really, really unreliable. As much as someone hates Perez Hilton, a lot of what he reports actually happened.

    Basically, you can’t use American “blogs” like you’ve mentioned as benchmarks for Japan. At the same time, I can’t really think of very good blogs that are equal quality, even if not equal function. Maybe Kikko’s Blog. The choices are not particularly overwhelming.

  7. Aceface Says:

    Media environment.

    Japan has highly centralized media outlets and I don’t need to tell you about this.
    To maintain a political blog,you need materials and materials has to come from the mainstream media.But many political analysis are more or less the same thanks to Kisya club.Ofcourse the Op-Ed is different and that’s why big papares launched that shitty あらたにす,but most of the Op-Eds are anonimous,thus boring.So those who wants to launch a blog usually starts to dig a very specific and personal holes that can only be appreciated by small(but highly informed) groups of people.America do not have so many nation-wide paper like Japan,Only USA TODAY comes to my mind.So there are motivation for making nationwide media on blogsphere,while Japanese do not.

    There are political analyst-like profession
    called Seiji-Hyouron-ka,but most of what they write are hardly reliable nor neutral and they only write for money,not for the potential influences.
    The diet members do not hire so many policy wonks like congressional staffers in the U.S and there are no independent policy think-tank in Japan.
    Ofcourse,there should be some bottom-up political blog run by citizens,and there are many.However there are huge decade old divide between left and right jeopardize crating a sphere that attracts wide spectrum of age groups.You can even distinguish them from the name of the blog and forums ,the extreme rights has name with “政治,Politics”,and leftists and liberals use “市民,citizen”,the conservatives are comtempt with the existing mainstream old media and Non-poli-s have no interst in politics of what so ever.

    And you still wonder why there is not so much good political blog in Japan….

  8. W. David MARX Says:

    Politics in Japan do not lend themselves to political blogging like in the U.S.

    But Japan does have an incredible consumer culture, so where are the really good “culture” blogs? Itai News is a pretty good link collection. Gigazine seems like a boring version of Itai News.

    Any gossip blogs that don’t feel like SPAM traps? And why don’t editors leak their best stories online…?!

  9. Aceface Says:

    “But Japan does have an incredible consumer culture, so where are the really good “culture” blogs? ”

    Who needs blogs if you have 115 fashion magazines sold in the bookstores?

    “Any gossip blogs that don’t feel like SPAM traps? And why don’t editors leak their best stories online…?!”

    There is something called 覆面座談会 which is a popular article that comes up occasionary in Shukanshi.If they can make profit doing that on old media,why should thay do so free online?

  10. W. David MARX Says:

    See I think we are getting to the bottom of things here: some of us silly Anglophones think that information deserves to be free. You keep thinking about all the commercial opportunities!

    I do think that the United States in particular has about 50:1 ratio of aspiring journalists:journalism jobs and that means that everyone wants to prove themselves on the Net so that they can get a job. I don’t think that’s what’s going on in Japan.

  11. Aceface Says:

    “some of us silly Anglophones think that information deserves to be free.”

    That reminds me of a jackass who used to be a WaPo correspndent here in the 70′s and now a specialist of North Korea and nuclear proliferation who demanded 500 bucks to every Japanese journalists asking him for a comment on a phone.

    America just has too many college graduates with journalistic course degree which is plain seless if you don’t have a job in the industry.
    Here no one gives a rat ass on media graduates from Japanese university,you first go to Kisya club for a few years and then we think you are grown up.

  12. Daniel Says:

    “Who needs blogs if you have 115 fashion magazines sold in the bookstores?”

    Yeah, and no need for something like Kotaku or Joystiq since Famitsu comes out every Friday, unlike most of the US mags which are monthlies…and dying out.

  13. skchai Says:

    It is meaningful to compare numbers, though we need to look at the content of the blogs and how they’re read. Even reducing the numbers by 40%, that still means that proportionately more than twice as much of the Japanese-speaking population blogs than the English-speaking population. And even if the point about “international language for blogging” is ultra-hyperbole – there are not enough Japanese speakers for Japanese to be the international language for anything – some of the points of the original article deserve more than dismissal out of hand. Regarding why there aren’t as many political blogs – the point about Japanese politics being a closed shop due to the kisha club system is certainly part of it. However, as the article implies, it is also because Japanese blogs do tend to be more about the author’s own daily life – something like a public diary – rather than commentary about the outside world. This might explains why may be relatively few Japanese blogs about culture, business, etc. as well. Many if not most Japanese blogs are about nothing in particular other than the author. . .

  14. M-Bone Says:

    “the point about Japanese politics being a closed shop due to the kisha club system is certainly part of it.”

    Is this really the case? Do US politics blogs not rely on government announcements and press conferences in the same way? While there are occasional exceptions, I don’t think that behind the scenes informants and free access to politicians are characteristics of the US blogsphere – rants about information that appears through mainstream channels seems to be the rule.

  15. LS Says:

    I think that many early American blogs were about daily life: links.net, Livejournals, Xangas, etc. If we accept the idea that PC-based Web use in Japan lags the US, maybe the online diary is just the ur-blog, and Japanese blogs will develop political focus or other specializations later.

    “Stuff Japanese People Like” might be five or ten years away.

  16. Aceface Says:

    Kisya club is a problem since reporters can’t write as an individual,but only as a member of the team.And there are various restriction coming from your superior,the desk,editorial chiefs,etc.
    From that kind of environment,only a few can be grown up as the one to write political commentary and such individual is usually a Go-by-the-book type.

    Foreign criticism usually focus on pressure from politician which does exist,however what is more problem is each reporters are assigned to be as close as they can be to politician of various fractions,thus can collect as much information as possible for the team.And those informants may not be your own personal asset since once you write what everything you know,the informant may stop giving you info,and the desk will be pissed.Eventually you will be tied up to this relationship,while your superior enjoys freedom of opinion by writing a commentary based on the info you so hardly gained.
    That,I think is the problem of Kisya club.

  17. M-Bone Says:

    Ace – I agree with your assessment of kisha club problems (that the problems are mostly within the news agencies). I don’t think, however, that they do much to restrict blogging.

  18. Aceface Says:

    They do indeed.
    I’m not seven upposed to type this,you know.(Although I’m now doing this from my office PC during the night shift)
    Any material that I intend to write has to be consulted with my superior.I once wrote a short piece on Mongolia without telling anyone and somehow one of my boss found out and told me next time I must do some paper work in advance.
    Same goes to attending symposium as a panelist.I was suppose to go to one of journalist get together in South East Asian capital once.I told my superior a week in advance and he brought that all the way up to the news bureau chief.And the answer came back 24 hours before my departure and it was “No”.

    It’s the bureaucracy that is killing journalism here.Not government intrusion y any means.

  19. M-Bone Says:

    They might restrict blogging by reporters, but this is not a Japan-only thing – famously a CNN reporter was fired for personal blogging not long ago. The situation that you describe is also exactly what many young academics go through – a fear of writing anything controversial or stand-offish so as not to alienate anyone important before tenure.

    Kisha clubs, do not, however, do much to explain why there are relatively few political blogs by “ordinary” people, students, academics, etc. Japan and the USA present some interesting contrasts. USA – major alternative media interest in politics, abysmal voting rate. Japan – widespread apathy toward politics, reasonable voting rate. Why do you think this is the case?

  20. W. David MARX Says:

    famously a CNN reporter was fired for personal blogging not long ago

    Great, you found one example. I think even the political media’s BLOGS – like Atlantic’s Andrew Sullivan, The New Republic’s The Plank – blow away anything that Japan has to offer. Not to mention all the non-media affiliated blogs like DailyKos. You think that political bloggers in the US are holding back info like in Japan? Or that they are just using government stats without criticizing or analyzing those stats? C’mon.

  21. Aceface Says:

    Kisha club structuralize the age and rank based hierarchy in media sphere,thus influence political discourse of civic society.Back then,the youth had student movement and labor union as the leverage of influence to political situation.Now it’s gone and apathy rules in the youth.

    Added to generational divide,half-century old left-right polarization symbolized in constitutional debate had made people distance themselves from political debate.

  22. M-Bone Says:

    “Great, you found one example.”

    As a result of the entire CNN organization forcing employees to sign something saying that they won’t write for anyone else or publish on their own without approval… and enforcing it.

    “You think that political bloggers in the US are holding back info like in Japan?”

    Didn’t say that at all. The critical stuff is everywhere. However, 99% of it takes an officially available / released quote or number and talks critically about it – a look at the last few things on “The Plank” – something Obama said at a fundraiser, something Clinton said on TV, something said in the senate, something said in the senate. My point is that US political blogs don’t do much of their own digging – the grist of their mill is still very much the readily available stuff.

    When you say “blow away everything that Japan has to offer” do you mean in all media? They blow away Japan’s blogs, but Japan still has major monthlies running “taidan” with critical academics, etc.

    In any case, we’ve been through this a number of times before. I (and Aceface has made this point about newspapers and magazines) believe that part of the impetus for alternative media reporting in the USA comes from the crap state of its traditional media. How many popular oriented books with “working poor” in the title do you think are available in the USA (arguably the country’s most serious social problem)? One solid one – Shipler’s “The Working Poor: Invisible in America”. Others are $40 hardcover academic books. Japan? 13 reasonably priced examples on “amazon.co.jp”. Now, America has books on the topic that come up under different search terms but Japan’s most prolific writing on the subject comes under “geryu” and “kakusa” anyway. Japan has vast amounts of solid critical material cycling through traditional media forms and people are reading it – some of these poverty titles have sold in the hundreds of thousands of copies.

  23. W. David MARX Says:

    I think you are trying to hard to equate vastly different media environments through specific examples. The Macaca moment is a perfect example of the blog world changing American politics. The Plank has very good and relatively unique analysis: it is not just a dry anonymous kisha club article. As bad as American media gets, the reporters from rival companies do not get together and WRITE THE ARTICLE AS A COMMITTEE!

    We will have to agree to disagree that political reporting in both countries is “equal.”

    (In terms of voting rate, is it not a function of Japanese voting being on weekends and American voting being on weekdays due to the Judeo-Christian idea of sabbath? Just asking.)

    But ignore political blogs. I think the inputs are so different that we can’t even compare outputs.

    What about social and cultural blogs? I want to hear more about good Japanese cultural blogs other than Itai News.

  24. M-Bone Says:

    I think that comparing radically different media and their environments is useful in this case. You are making the very correct argument that the US media environment does some things far better than Japan’s – blogs being a major one (is this not comparing vastly different media environments?). However, Japan’s does some things far better as well – mass market pop non-fiction and monthly magazines being notable. Both environments have unique strengths.

    In a way, I think that the discussion works out like this -

    Aceface – Japanese newsguy (favors newspapers and magazines over blogs)
    Marxy – Blogger (strong belief in the “democratization” of knowledge that blogs represent)
    M-Bone – Academic (favors academic discourse and its packaging for mass readership)

    No real mystery where we are coming from.

    “WRITE THE ARTICLE AS A COMMITTEE!”

    Yeah, but vastly different editorials, didn’t the Japanese media do a great job of toppling Abe, the newspapers also produce many of those mass market paperbacks – a location for much of their investigative stuff – while US newspaper companies don’t…. well you know what I’m going to say at this point so agreeing to disagree is a good idea.

    You are also correct that Japan tends to suck on culture blogs as well. I agree with Aceface’s earlier comment about the (relatively) healthy state of the Japanese magazine market. Shockingly, Japan has more and better quality BOXING magazines than the USA (an area where you would think the USA would be clearly superior). The USA has the better online content, but this did not do in the print magazines – it developed because of their abysmal state (according to the founders of those websites). I think that this is a common pattern.

    When looking at the state of high culture reporting, for example, we shouldn’t forget that Bunshun and other magazines can do upwards of a million copies when they announce the big literary prizes. This type of thing is “good” on its own and certainly seems to be negating the need for blogs to some degree.

  25. W. David MARX Says:

    You are also correct that Japan tends to suck on culture blogs as well.

    This makes no sense. Cultural magazines in Japan are catalogs and almost 100% manufacturer/producer oriented. What culture blogs could do in Japan is totally revolutionize how culture is being talked about. Without revenues to worry about, bloggers can be critical, and we are seeing critical voices against big pop culture like Koizora on Amazon.co.jp already.

    So yes, Japanese magazines are great, but they totally lack a certain kind of content. Unclear, however, whether Japanese readers WANT that content or not.

    The reason that there are better and more boxing magazines in Japan is that the boxing industry basically PAYS for these magazines to exist. Without that backing, they could exist at all. They are glorified fan club newsletters.

    The USA has the better online content, but this did not do in the print magazines – it developed because of their abysmal state

    This is a weak argument. New Yorker and Vanity Fair are pretty incredible sometimes. Blogs are just faster with new information. I don’t think anyone can say, however, that blogs come from how bad US journalism is. Corporate TV News may be questionable, but there are plenty of other sources. And I would argue that most of the best political “bloggers” come out of the journalistic establishment.

    This type of thing is “good” on its own and certainly seems to be negating the need for blogs to some degree.

    Sure, but again, blogs let people become independent critics outside of the system. Why are there not a lot of Japanese individuals who want to establish themselves this way? I want to see a Japanese version of Tobias Harris from Japan Observer. He is using his blog as a way of establishing himself as an expert – and moving into the mainstream media from a blog background.

  26. Aceface Says:

    “Cultural magazines in Japan are catalogs and almost 100% manufacturer/producer oriented.”

    That’s just comiung from your taste of choosing “cultural”magazine,Marxy.
    Is ユリイカ100% manufacturer magazine?
    How about 大航海?
    CUT,サライ,QUICK JAPAN,EIGA HIHO,COYOTE,SWITCH,RONZA,東京人、中央公論、文芸春秋?
    The list goes on and on.

    ”Sure, but again, blogs let people become independent critics outside of the system. Why are there not a lot of Japanese individuals who want to establish themselves this way? ”

    There are,But those blogs are run by individuals with limited interest,thus attracts limited crowd.

    “I want to see a Japanese version of Tobias Harris from Japan Observer. He is using his blog as a way of establishing himself as an expert – and moving into the mainstream media from a blog background.”

    The job market for policy wonk is limited here.
    If you are over 35 it is difficult to switch your expertise or find other job.That means all the intellectuals have one profession and pursue that through your career from very early age.So motivation of using blogging as career opportunity is low.
    I can think of one exception,Ieda Nobuo.He quit NHK at the age of 40 and went back to the grad school to get MA and PHD.He also change jobs from thinktank in RIETI(kicked out because of controvertial paper he wrote that contradicts MIETI policy) and to GLOCOM(kicked out because of internal struggle)and now professor of some third-rate University.
    Because his pretty militant in a lot of way(and highly critical about current media monopoly by TV station) he is rejected by mainstream media,that is major paper and television company,too.
    So he now uses blog to have his voice heard and create his career in mainstream media against all odds.He is one of the top alpha blogger in the country.

  27. Aceface Says:

    Ieda Nobuo.
    It’s Ikeda.

  28. W. David MARX Says:

    Seems like being an alpha blogger in Japan means being kicked OUT of the system instead of someone trying to get INTO the system.

    Perhaps the way that information is controlled, you cannot supply audiences with enough content unless you are IN the system. Kisha club monopoly seems to suggest that.

    That’s just comiung from your taste of choosing “cultural”magazine,Marxy.

    Okay, fine “product”-related magazines are 100% ad-driven. Is there a music magazine that doesn’t sell all of its editorial space? You picked some fancy wordy ones.

  29. Aceface Says:

    Remember,we are straight jacket society,you know.

    I think relatively low social status of free-lancer might be another reason.

    “Perhaps the way that information is controlled, you cannot supply audiences with enough content unless you are IN the system. Kisha club monopoly seems to suggest that.”

    Well,it’s both yes and no.In U.S,high ranking bureaucrats are political appointee and the offices and posts are revolving doors.Here,it’s life-time employment.So you have to have institution like the club to take a peek inside of the closed world of bureaucracy.It’s a necessary evil,I think.

    I picked fancy wordy ones,because I wanted to show you the world outside of CanCan and Johnny’s jimuho.
    Anyway they are all cultural and do not have so much catalogur….
    And I think any “product-driven”mags are more or less ad driven,No? Anyway,it’s a bad trend started by MAGAZINE HOUSE when they started POPEYE.

    Record Collectors/Music Magazine? They are making catalogue all right,but I don’t think Nakamura Toyo is selling their pages.

  30. Greg Starr Says:

    Actually, there are huge differences among the “cultural” magazines mentioned here. Several of them are heavily ad driven. Buy an ad; get your (artist/film/CD) featured. Switch has some very good stuff, as does CUT, for example, but a lot of coverage can be had by paying for ad pages. If you look carefully at these magazines, you begin to notice a correlation between ad pages and editorial. It’s subtle, but there. I know publicists who’ve been asked by some of these magazines’ editors where they’d like the interview, and explaining how editorial gets placed with priority to stuff that generates ad income.

  31. Aceface Says:

    EIGA HIHO has been writing A LOT about CUT selling their soul to the film distributors.
    It’s pretty obvious from their special features like MUST SEE SUMMER 2008-type article using tons of materials presented from the distributors.Maybe I take off CUT from the list.

    And speak of that,it also came to my mind a few years back,東京人had also edited special issue of Ueno area in colloboration with a real estate developer building 20 street high apartments that stands by Kototoi Dori,of which the locals were against.The writer Mori Mayumi,one of the editorial board member of 東京人and editor of local mag 谷根千 had asked to drop her name from the issue.

    That was a serious betrayal,since 東京人was always promoting preservation of old neighborhood.But then again the subsidies from Tokyo Met Gov.had cut off around that time thanks to that jackass in the two towers and that left the editorial office no choice,but to make money themselves,which ends in the worst alternative.

    Oops.Maybe Marcy is right.There are lots of mags that are ad driven!

    How wast now-gone PREMIERE JAPAN,Greg?
    I actually liked the mag,bought almost every month….

  32. W. David MARX Says:

    Finally someone said what I have always been waiting to hear for so long: “Maybe Marcy is right.”

  33. M-Bone Says:

    “The reason that there are better and more boxing magazines in Japan is that the boxing industry basically PAYS for these magazines to exist. Without that backing, they could exist at all. They are glorified fan club newsletters.”

    The biggest boxing promoter (Golden Boy) in the USA owns the only print magazine going there.

    “The USA has the better online content, but this did not do in the print magazines – it developed because of their abysmal state
    This is a weak argument.”

    That was a boxing-specific comment and is certainly true in that context.

    In any case, we certainly read different “cultural” magazines. I likes the fancy wordy ones.

  34. Greg Starr Says:

    How was Premiere? It was a constant battle to keep ad sales people out of the power seats. No magazine in Japan can make it these days without “tie-ups”–unless you’ve got a circulation in the hundreds of thousands, like, say Shukan Shincho or Bunshun. (Even more than ads, tie-up editorial is much more heavily pursued by ad clients.) What I was always fighting for were tie-ups that were clearly not done by the editorial team, but most clients would try to demand that the editors do it so that it looked insidiously like “real” editorial. One of the reasons I ended up leaving was that I was being pushed to sell the cover of the magazine, and no matter how much cash was on the table, I couldn’t bring myself to say yes. I’m glad you liked it; it was fun to do–even when we were being banned from screening rooms for being critical.

  35. Aceface Says:

    Greg:

    Not saying that you are here,But I thought PREMIER was making significant change in movie magazine of the country.

    I used to read “スクリーン”and ”ロードショー”when I was kid,and I picked up a while ago for the first time in 20 some years and surprise! They still edit in the same format!Same goes to Kine Jun and 映画芸術.Too archaic in many ways.Others like Cahier Du Cinema Japon and IMAGEFORUM is too high blow.I do buy EIGA HIHO from it’s foundation,but then again the editorial policy is hardly mainstream and filled with straight-to-DVDs and Ginza Cinepathos only.

    So I thought PREMIERE was going middleground nicely.Pics and interviews and gossips of Hollywood stars and some criticism of mini-theater films matched in the editorial.I also liked “what is our sister PREMIER of the world covering”type article.

    You just need good movie magazine to feel the vibe of movement which is lacking here.Something I adore about South Korea where they sell mags like CINE 2.0 in subway kiosk.

    Hasumi Shigehiko’s LUMIERE did have success to make (limited)people go for highblow film in palces like ATHENE FRANCAIS and EUROSPACE.
    But as Critic Yanasita Kiichiro had written it somewhere recently like “where did all the audience in ATHENE FRANCAIS had gone”,such limited fandom do not last,thus don’t contribute to make vibes to the scenes.You just need good mainstream film magazine and CUT/Shibuya Youichi is not doing it.

  36. Pass the Dutchie Says:

    Mebbe Marcy is looking for his Japanese blogger equal. People are attracted to those that resemble themselves. I would read it!

  37. W. David MARX Says:

    Mar-Cie would also settle for a Japanese version of Gawker or The Superficial, but maybe I would start to hate those too.

  38. Mulboyne Says:

    http://www.csmonitor.com/2008/0408/p04s02-wogn.html

    “Online papers challenge Japan’s mainstream media”

  39. Aceface Says:

    That’s not gonna happen,Mulboyne.At least in the form of “citizen journalism”.

    Oh-My-News Japan is doing so bad,they need financial
    support from the head office in Korea(and that may not be for long because Korean version is losing readership dramatically after Pres.Rho left office) and the current editor-in-chief is ex-top of papparazzi mag “FRIDAY”.
    What can we get from this clash of civilization between the amateurism and the tabloid exploitation is beyond me.Anyway,I’m not reading it.

    Mebbe I should start blogging like Marcy instead of grumbling.
    But I have to have authorization from my boss if I use my real name and that’s probably difficult.And somebody have to rewrite in English from the first sentence.

  40. skchai Says:

    Ohmynews Japan had the #2-most watched video on all of Youtube just a few days ago, until they forced the poster to take it down. It was Kago Ai’s comeback interview – the greatest scoop they’ve never had. So the power of idols explains why Japan does not have serious political and cultural blogs? Actually there is something to this – admittedly I’m going to to stretch things a bit, but isn’t that what these kinds of forums are for?

    It could be argued most popular U.S. political commentary blogs are less about policy than they are about political figures (including other bloggers) as flawed, inane, crooked, and occasionally tragic characters. Even debates about, e.g. the Iraq drawdown, turn into debates about the motives and abilities of the people taking different positions. Look at the an average day’s Kos posts (or anywhere else) – it’s all about politicians, lobbyists, commentators, etc. That doesn’t imply that political issues don’t get discussed, but the focus is on those individuals who espouse or attack a particular position. Analysis of policy is always more fun if involves attacking somebody’s political performance.

    You obviously don’t get that kind of political theatre in Japan. Even though question time in the Diet may be as much of a rumble as any other time since the Anpo debates, it’s still incredibly lacking in passion or conflict by the standards of other countries (including other Asian parliamentary democracies). Decisions are still made well ahead of time by the various (sometimes interparty) “zoku” in conjunction with the supposedly dying administrative guidance of the ministries. Only extremists use their time in public to grandstand on the issues; the rest try to limit themselves to the most anodyne statements possible. Off the main stage, there is a very effective omerta that prevents leaks to the press. So there is very little dramatic material for the blogger (or mainstream press) to work with, and the persistence of the controlled information flow or the kisha club system is a reflection of the resulting hunger for inside information.

    So back my first point – the world of talents and idols in a way compensates for this lack of theatre in politics, business, and other areas of society. Celebrityhood anywhere is “engineered” to some extent, but nowhere as much as in Japan, where celebrities’ personas offstage are honed with the same, or greater, precision and consistency, than those onstage. Indeed, there is often little differentiation between the two. This makes the drama of celebrityhood in Japan “political” in the sense that by identifying with a particular celebrity you are identifying with a clearly-defined paradigm of personhood, with all the implications this has for values, lifestyle, etc. O.K., that’s an exaggerration, but only slightly. You can ignore explicitly political figures, yet can engage in politics all you want.

  41. W. David MARX Says:

    I agree, but I find the celebrity blogging in Japan to be either too tame or extremely ad-click driven.

    Blogs could provide the perfect opportunity to really break the jimusho-media collusion system (which the media would like to break out of), and yet, there is just so little to see for it. The best internet site ever about Japanese entertainment was this one:

    http://plaza.rakuten.co.jp/ewriweb/

    It’s been “under renewal” for years now. Maybe somebody “got” to the guy.

    You can find archives of it on the Net Archive. I have meant to do a post on this.

  42. skchai Says:

    It is basically a kind of large-N prisoners dilemma/collective action problem. Artists in Japan no doubt look with envy at relative amount of autonomy that established Western creators are given in deciding upon the content of their artistic production and the persona environment in it is presented. However, it is close to suicidal for any single artist, even a powerful one like Ayu or Koda (if they had the intellectual wherewithal to conceive of creative independence), to take on the establishment by themselves, and there isn’t sufficient coordination to create the coalition of powerful artists who might actually be able to bring about change. The history of those who have tried, for whatever reason is not encouraging. The threshold will no doubt be crossed eventually, but it will take years, and in the meantime the only ones willing to attack the system are the outside-the-system commentators and washed-up stars who no longer have a stake in it, who expose the dirty underpinnings of the business, but since they are washed-up do not affect its ability to generate revenue and control TV.

  43. nate Says:

    interesting discussion.

    what counts as a ‘political blog’? maybe the right has figured it out quicker than the left, but there is a wide range of uyoku blog content. any activist worth his salt has a blog, and there are legions of net-activists who have taken a step beyond the 2ch fray to write their version of political tract and treatise.

    and I would echo earlier sentiment regarding gekkanshi. Japanese gekkanshi are great! authors are not anonymous and they are a useful addition to the strangled newspaperunreliable and salacious shuukanshi binary.

  44. nate Says:

    and a good number among the gekkanshi authors have blogs as well.

  45. Aceface Says:

    “However, it is close to suicidal for any single artist, even a powerful one like Ayu or Koda (if they had the intellectual wherewithal to conceive of creative independence), to take on the establishment by themselves”

    There is actually a hit comedy manga that is going to be a film starring Matsuyama Kennichi this summer called “Detroit Metal City”, about a Swedish Pop lover enforced to play in a heavy metal band by authoritative jimusho and protagonist goes schizophrenia…

    I thing bloggers bending toward right is due to the fact many of them are children of babyboomers called Dankai-Junior団塊ジュニア.(Dankai means lump of generation raised in apartment complex built in of generation raised in apartment complex built in the rapid economic development age of the late 50′s.)
    Their parents are liberals,their teachers at school are liberals and their superiors at the company office are liberals.ANd these dankais are outnumbering your generation and occupying influential posts and do not retire.
    Naturally everyone who comes after become anti-dankai/anti-leftist.

    And about gekkanshi.
    I think it’s quality is repidly in decline compare to,say 60′s,which is quite an irony.

  46. nate Says:

    actually I think a good number of them are older dankai no sedai people as well. there was a pretty vigorous anti-student movement-movement, and other ‘reformed’ leftists… of course there are younger ones as well.
    I never really noticed a generational distinction though–unless it was that younger (activist) bloggers tended to be left or anarchist …or ‘fascist’ in a more lefty way.

    as for gekkanshi—the 1960s?! how would you compare current ones to those of the 1980s or 1990s? I mean, how rapid is this decline you are talking about?

  47. M-Bone Says:

    I agree with Aceface that gekkanshi were “better” in the 1960s (Kinema Junpo was really good back in the day, well 1950s really) but some of them ran rambling stuff (Daitoasenso Koteiron in Chuokoron) to rival anything coming out now. Our feeling that they are better may be akin to the widespread belief that American film in the 1970s was better than it is now – a feeling that what you watch / read was “fresh” when it came out (I certainly didn’t read the old gekkanshi in “real time” so those judgements are very subjective). I can’t for the life of me recognize any decline in the respectable lit/opinion/politics ones over the past 10 years. If anything, they have been better at recognizing the fundamental ideological deadlock in Japanese letters, and more likely to run critical pieces on things like immigration (Chuokoron produced a “foreign crime wave is BS” piece that is better than anything that has circulated on the topic in English).

    In any case, if gekkanshi have declined in quality from the 1960s, mass market softcovers have increased in quality – writing, research, and diversity of topics covered.

  48. W. David MARX Says:

    Okay, to bring this back to the topic at hand:

    Great, Japanese monthlies are high-level. The same with American monthly magazines. So why don’t these Japanese publications have blogs like the Atlantic or the New Republic or the New Yorker?

    Is it because Japan is too futuristic for the Internet?

  49. M-Bone Says:

    “The same with American monthly magazines.”

    True, but the Japanese ones tend to have at least twice as much content / word count. They also tend to do a better job of soliciting commentary from top academics (often internationally) and they also sell on an even level with the American journals despite the fact that the population of Japan is well under half that of the United States.

    Not defending the lack of blogs, but the print editions do pack in a lot more than the US equivalents.

  50. W. David MARX Says:

    So Japanese intellectual magazines are better than American intellectual magazines because they have more words and more academics? I think this is a somewhat silly measure. (Does the quality of academics hold across international lines? I would tend to disagree here.)

    I was done comparing the actual content. I was just trying to make a point about these media institutions moving into the Net.

  51. M-Bone Says:

    More words = more content, more room to develop ideas in individual pieces. I really don’t want to see the 250 word blog post replace the 5000 word analysis piece.

    More academics – including European, American, etc. (if you don’t like Japanese academics) writing in the Japanese magazines. Do you read the Japanese monthlies often? Regular pieces in translation from all over the world in the big ones.

    Can the expansion of the US blogsphere not be seen in the context of what is likely to be judged the worst presidency in the country’s history? It seems as though more Americans may have more to be angry about than not only Japanese, but public-sphere savvy individuals in other countries where blogging lags (Canada, Germany). The USA has not only seen a rise in blogging, but in all kinds of technology assisted activism.

  52. W. David MARX Says:

    Also, I think that more Americans use the Net as a daily media source than the Japanese. That’s the problem going back to our original topic: there is a quality difference in Japanese and American Net usage, even if the quantitative analysis shows equivalence or even Japanese “dominance.” Great, you have more blogs-per-population and better broadband, but you don’t have entrenched parts of the media structure making any sort of real, non-hedge entrance into the web.

    They may be making money without going online, but aren’t Japanese people – by their Shinto tradition – automatically supposed to adopt the newest and most amazing technologies?

    I really don’t want to see the 250 word blog post replace the 5000 word analysis piece.

    This is a false binary. The New Yorker, for example, has not stopped publishing long articles. They instead offer some of their content free online, have blogs, and do a weekly podcast with the author of a piece. They also have their political correspondents do a Campaign Trail podcast every week or so.

    The Atlantic hasn’t abolished long pieces either just because they have Andrew Sullivan blogging. You can have both. Japanese companies just have no idea (nor huge demands from their [aged] readerships) to expand their offerings to match new technology. There’s no reason why NHK or other networks can’t offer all their news as podcasts, is there? Everything may come back to the idea that: at best, adults don’t take the Internet seriously in Japan, and at worst, entrenched interests don’t want to see it succeed.

  53. Aceface Says:

    “There’s no reason why NHK or other networks can’t offer all their news as podcasts, is there?”

    There is.NHK is resticted of full use of internet by broadcast law.

    And publishing house are all cautious about putting their magazine content online for the sake of preserving of this.
    http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E5%86%8D%E8%B2%A9%E5%A3%B2%E4%BE%A1%E6%A0%BC%E7%B6%AD%E6%8C%81

    This explains why Newspapers and publishers are reluctant to have their contents online.

  54. M-Bone Says:

    “even if the quantitative analysis shows equivalence or even Japanese “dominance.””

    Nowhere here have you seen me supporting that idea. I didn’t buy it when it first floated around and I certainly don’t believe it now. In fact, its such a silly idea that I’m not even sure that it is worthwhile arguing against. American web usage is clearly “better” in a pure social criticism / relevance vein in my view as well. I’m worried that blogs and news sites move people into a more parochial form of information consumption than the good ol’ broadsheet, but there are advantages to blogs as well (particularly good as media criticism). On the downside – those campaign blogs that you mentioned. American media has a tendency to focus far more on the campaign than on the issues and this is only exacerbated by the instant reporting medium.

    “They may be making money without going online, but aren’t Japanese people – by their Shinto tradition – automatically supposed to adopt the newest and most amazing technologies?”

    OMG! MOMUS POSSESSED MARXY!

    Seriously, isn’t that whole Japanese advanced technological adoption thing so 1993?

    “Japanese companies just have no idea (nor huge demands from their [aged] readerships) to expand their offerings to match new technology.”

    Yeah, that’s more or less it. But as Aceface has argued, they also don’t have the “rapidly sinking ship” motivation.

    Another factor – it seems as though The Atlantic, The NYT, etc. get about HALF of their traffic from outside of the USA (so is this shift even an “American” phenomonon as well). This just would not be realistic for Chuokoron or Sekai. The American journals are hitting large audiences who may not have any access to the print editions (and thus turning them into a new revenue source) while anyone in Japan should be able to find a copy of Bungei and nobody outside of the Japanese language sphere really cares.

    As for long pieces – they have not been abolished, but the blog demands MUST be distracting reporters from the major features.

    In any case, that “adults don’t take the internet seriously in Japan” comes back to the major point of the Gekkanshi discussion – if you have your phat Bungei and your 650 yen shinsho and your daily paper (just the facts) and your weekly (hard hitting political criticism… and titties) why go online at all? America had three major shocks – 911, Iraq, Katrina – that sent people scurrying from traditional media in the United States. Would 8 years of Gore and no 911 produced the same thing? If 1995 (Kobe Earthquake, Aum) had been 2005, something similar may have happened in Japan. There is also the matter of how shockingly boring a Japanese campaign blog would be….

  55. W. David MARX Says:

    Seriously, isn’t that whole Japanese advanced technological adoption thing so 1993?

    I was being sarcastic about Shinto. So 1993: in terms of reality, yes. In terms of media coverage and the Western joushiki, no.

  56. M-Bone Says:

    “I was being sarcastic about Shinto.”

    I know, I was being sarcastic about Momus. Sarcasm and blog comments don’t usually mix well.

    “the Western joushiki”

    Phew, glad I don’t have that anymore.

    BTW, when was the last year that we could really say that Japanese keitai were SO much better than those back home. 2004?

  57. W. David MARX Says:

    I think the iPhone really evened the playing field.

    I still like my three-year old Marc Newson talby. I don’t need to watch TV or do computerized boxing games. I just need to take calls and return emails.

  58. Aceface Says:

    Publishers and Newspapers are reluctant about putting their contents online for fear of losing their grip to copy rights,and more importanltly industry cartel such as retial price maintenance.
    Ikeda Nobuo has been accusing cartel in broadcasting and asking for more deregulation.

    So there you have it,Marxy.
    The problem in the industry is in cartel and lack of deregulation that are needed to match the changing environment.
    Ofcourse applying that directly to the individual bloggers is a bit of a hyperbole.But the abundance of information the bloggers can get from net environment does affect the blogsphere,hence there are difference.

  59. skchai Says:

    Okay, to bring this back to the topic at hand

    If I can try to summarize the various possible causes proposed by one person or another for the paucity of Japanese blogs on politics, culture, and economics:

    PC-based internet usage still relatively recent phenomenon relative to other technologically developed countries; hence adoption of content genres still in early stages.
    Opaque political and economic system generates little personal color; blogging about policies in the abstract unlikely to attrack an audience.
    Greater variety of offline periodicals makes blogging more or less redundant.
    In collectivist society, the blogging individualist does enjoy same social status as in West.

    Without trying to weigh the relative plausibility of each, I would simply add a fourth. The structure of everyday life is not conducive to writing such blogs. What is necessary, are a critical mass of well-read, technologically-savvy individuals with considerable amounts free time on their hands. How many of these are there in Japan? Even with the decline of the “lifetime employment” system, the typical person who meets the first two criteria is going to be working in a job where there will be enough of a problem finding time to sleep, much less to compose and write lengthy blog entries. If “Western-style” blogs can be defined as a series of (not necessarily serious) lengthy commentaries on a single (not necessarily serious) specified topic, then we only see two categories of this in Japan. The first is the “out-of-system” blog by NEETs who are free to pursue their own intellectual or other interests, often while living with their parents. Perhaps the prototype of which is the ur-wota Nagai Sensei, who posts video blogs on Nico nico Douga. The other is “blogging as part of my job”, where the blogging posts are extensions of the content that the author is already producing as a professional. This includes all celebrity blogs that go beyond just chronicling everyday life, of course. But celebrities aside, perhaps the prototype here is perhaps most popular food blog, Yamaken no Shutcho Kuidaore. There author’s job is the distribution of (high-end) regional agricultural specialities to urban markets. There is an inherent slow-foodness to the job that makes the blog a natural outgrowth, one he does very well. But in Europe and the US there are prolific food blogs galore by people who hold down regular day jobs totally unrelated to food, something that would simply be infeasible in Japan.