For December, the final month of 2008, Néojaponisme will only be running “2008: The Year in Review” mini pieces, covering various topics from the year that is/was. Get your typing fingers ready for comment frenzy as we discuss the finer points of Japan’s economy, political system, pop culture, and technological progress!
As an American, this excellent post by fellow shitty patriot, American Sam McPheeters acutely captures a sentiment I felt just about two weeks ago as accurately as one could hope to. Hence, I quote it for the world citizenry who read this website:
“For those of us not running for First Lady, it seems safe to call it for what it is: Late Onset Patriotism. For the first time in my adult life, I’m actually proud of my country… Just as important as what we get is what we have been spared; four more years of sadistic fast-food incompetence, grumpy and perky flavored… Yesterday was the opposite of 9/11, almost surely the only such day anyone alive will ever experience. For one night, people across the planet covered their mouths in raw shock – a gesture eerily familiar from 9/11, but tracking to the extreme opposite end of the emotional spectrum. It was as if the Earth team had just won an intergalactic futbol championship. We’re in unknown territory.”
I am unsure if more appropriate and precise words have been spoken about the recent American election. I’m unsure what to do with this newfound sense of hope for millions of Americans. Wait for the new President to bungle, I imagine.
Ex-Gravure Idol Uncovers the ‘Dating Club’ in Japanese show biz world
There are two classic taboo rumors about the Japanese entertainment industry. The first is that organized crime runs the artist management business. There is a lot of evidence to back this up — convicted tax-evading jimusho bosses claiming the need for “underground financing” in the courtroom, bullets fired into management company windows, a well-known historical precedent for entertainment being a yakuza racket, Misora Hibari’s manager being a member of the Yamaguchi-gumi, etc., etc. But if you are a television network or publishing company dependent upon the very same entertainment companies to provide celebrities to attract viewers and readers, you are not exactly going to start blabbing about anything sinister. The entertainment companies are not dumb either, working at all costs to preserve the “wholesome” image. Who would think that the mob runs an industry where smoking a cigarette at age 19 can end your career as an idol?
The other persistent rumor is that model agencies — especially for gravia idols — prostitute their employees off on the side. A lot of the lower-ranking and newer idols must pay for their own dancing and singing lessons and are allegedly introduced to possible “buyers” by management company employees to secure an extra source of income. There are also apparently hostess clubs directly managed by the modeling agencies where up-and-coming talent can meet television executives and other powerful figures. In the past, there has been a lot of “Marxy, you are paranoid and crazy” in regards to my belief in this gossip. (And not just on this blog. My friend was pounding me on this just yesterday evening.)
Kohinata Minako Komukai Minako’s recent confession to these practices, however, is a huge leap forward for anyone wanting to pull back the curtain. I seriously doubt the story will get any legs — any talk of prostituting idols is still a massive taboo in the media, and almost no one has any stake in making the cheery idol business look seedy. Idols are the public face of many respectable businesses and government bureaus, so exposing the dark side of the industry is not just a hit for the management companies, but a hit for the entire Japanese national tatemae.
Many people often think, who cares where the money comes from? These revelations, however, show exactly why organized crime probably should not be free to hold the reigns to the pop cultural industries. They have too much temptation to milk as much money from their employees in any way possible, with basically no chance at legal recourse from their labor. And when the guys who run artist management companies and the guys who run brothels are in the same “fraternal organization,” crossover seems like an obvious occurrence.
For some reason last night, I became convinced that photographer Araki Nobuyoshi and Dragonball Z’s Master Roshi (aka 亀仙人) looked exactly the same. On closer inspection, I am crazy.
I watching was the video podcast of (uncompromisingly-liberal) PBS program Bill Moyers’ Journal, and in a segment called “Changing Times” about the Obama victory in the context of the civil rights struggle, Moyers told the story of Johnnie Marie Ross — an African-American woman who attended Martin Luther King Jr.’s funeral and voted for Obama.
The visuals cut to a picture of an article about Ross from the San Francisco Chronicle, and in the main photograph, the current Ross is wearing a (possibly fake, possibly real) BAPE camouflage hoodie. Talk about progress for Japanese street fashion!
I didn’t think I would be the first one to link to this article. (Update: Defeated by Danny Choo, who probably made $100 on his site while I type this sentence. Maybe I should have added a picture of impossibly-chested cartoon women…)
Basically, somebody compared the most-edited pages within the Wikipedia English, Wikipedia French, and Wikipedia Japan sites, and haha, the top five for Japan were all anime/manga related. Number one in the U.S. was George W. Bush — a politically controversial figure. Number three in France was Algeria —
I heard France had a slightly-controversial colony there. (Update: M-Bone pointed out that I am an idiot and forgot that Algerians use French.) Japan’s only real historical topic comes at #14 — World War II. Despite the heavy internal debate on that war within Japan, everyone using the net is much more interested in fixing minutiae about cartoons.
It would be easy to show this ranking as proof that Japanese minds are more obsessed with pop culture than national issues, politics, or ideology, but my guess is that this mainly reflects the still low cultural penetration of the internet in Japan. I know that stats rarely bear out this statement of mine — broadband usage is through the roof! etc. etc. — but I don’t think your average Joe in Japan (城氏？) is as dependent upon internet resources for daily information retrieval as in the U.S., for example. I can’t put my finger on it, but something in Japan still feels like the U.S. internet circa 1998, when it was only good for looking up the master timeline to the Macross series and guitar chords to They Might Be Giants songs.
Let’s make an index: the number of Wikipedia pages in a language divided by the numbers of speakers of said language times 100. Japanese ranks very low (.38) — way below Dutch (1.6) and Polish (1.2). Those who do use Wikipedia in Japan are early adopters, much more likely to be nerds. It’s the John Locke vs. John Locke syndrome. But at least other countries have internal domestic policies in constant debate to challenge the nerd quotient.
Another interesting bit: number eight in Japan is the “complete list of adult video stars.” I guess people are constantly adding names. Certainly suggests that the reference site is used by a lot of men — who have a lot of time to dedicate to editing porn trivia.
Just launched: IL.com 4.0. A million thanks and praises to Paul Sather and Jeremy Lanig!
In our last mega-battle over a certain Japanese magazine’s gleeful front-cover commercialization of a 14 year-old girl’s sexuality, I got mega-schooled at the very end by an anonymous commenter who dropped some names of other exploited low-teen girls back in the ’80s, who through a naive google image search, led to some of the most frightening images possibly lurking on the internet today. Okay, so this “let’s lust after real-life elementary school girls, everyone” thing is not new to post-war Japan. I concede that point.
But I do not retract my hate of Weekly Playboy, and this month’s cover story reminds me why they are so very, very terrible. While the rest of the world celebrates the nobler parts of the human community in the wake of Barrack Obama’s election, assholes at Playboy frame everything this way:
Obama vs. The Assassins: The Sniper Battle Has Begun!
Super classy, guys. Framing what would be the tragic murder of the U.S.’s brand new hope-inspiring African-American president as a sensational action movie plot.
Weekly Playboy is published by a mainstream publisher, but, it’s fair to say, does not represent the views of “mainstream Japanese.” That being said, Playboy does represent a certain “taste culture” that exists in Japan: let’s call it the “Asshole Faction.” Of course, they are jingoist anti-Asians, but I want to also point out that these 30 year-old angry dudes love child pornography, prostitution, and any other forms of institutionalized, social class-exploiting misogynistic services like adult video and hostess clubs. Maybe it’s only my imagination that there are still people out there who equate Japan’s enormous “sex business” with a progressive morality that transcends prudish “Christian” ethics, but if you are one of these people, deal with the fact that no one loves the Japanese sex business more than the Asshole Faction. It gives them something to do when not anticipating the assassination of the American president.
McDonalds closed their Omotesando location a few weeks back and replaced it with a big sign reading TOP SECRET and a silly foreigner in ill-fitting black suit and bad sunglasses. (He was the bodyguard.)
Today, two mysterious new restaurants opened in Shibuya and Omotesando called Quarter Pounder offering only two options: a Quarter Pounder with Cheese meal set and a Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese meal set.
‘Tis McDonalds behind the scheme, of course. Perchance they wanted a more interesting way to bring the iconic American hamburger variety to Japan instead of just throwing it on the menu next to the MacFlurry. My guess is that long lines will form, sucking the energy from H&M and Krispy Kreme. So much excitement for the most ubiquitous fast food chain already dominant in Japan! Viral marketing will probably work this time around, and judging from the Néojaponisme-esque limited color palette of black and red, probably did not even cost so much to do.