Who Needs Truth? Use Your Imagination


I am currently reading Alex Kerr’s critical reappraisal of Japan, Dogs and Demons. Interesting bits on the lack of free information in Japan:

While experts on Japan know all about the commonly encountered difference between tatemae (an official stated position) and honne (real intent), they tend to view the discrepancy as a negotiating ploy. It hasn’t occurred to them that the fundamental Japanese attitude towards information might differ from what they take for granted in the West. But it does differ, and radically so. (104)


While most of the books on the Japanese information barrier — Ivan Hall’s Cartels of the Mind and Laurie Anne Freeman’s Closing the Shop, for example — deal with the political implications for a democratic society, I think that these information structures fundamentally alter something as trivial as the way that popular culture is constructed and consumed.

These barriers are operating behind even the most unpolitical J-Pop fan magazine and street-wear shopping guides. The lack of “free” information is a critical component for steadying the markets to provide funding for the cultural industries.

My question is: How will the Internet change this? If you look at 2-ch, there is a lot of dissemination of taboo news items, but there is so much flaming and nonsense and ASCII art that you have to spend hours searching to find anything good. There is access to freer information, but it’s marginalized. What worries me is not the technology, but the fact that those in position to receive privileged information feel no responsibility to spread it outside of their circles. No one feels any urge to “spread the truth.” Talk to any magazine editor for thirty minutes and you’ll be shocked to find out how much they know and aren’t telling their readers.

And people in the bottom don’t really mind if the information they get turns out to be made-up. I used to love the school-themed “reality show” Gakkou e ikou!, but I got really angry when I saw one part of an episode that was obviously scripted. Outraged, I complained to a Japanese friend who said tersely, “yume ga nai” — “Jeez, you have no imagination.”

W. David MARX (Marxy)
November 5, 2004

Marxy wrote a lot of essays back on his old site Néomarxisme. This is one of them.

One Response

  1. Momus Says:

    You know, Marxy, this is totally amazing. I suddenly thought last night ‘I wonder if David has read ‘Dogs and Demons’, because he talks exactly like Alex Kerr?’ And I spent an hour or two writing a blog thing which grouped your dismissals of Japan with Kerr’s, then preparing my defence of Japan, which I group with Ian Buruma’s dismissal of Kerr’s book in the NYRB. I didn’t run it as today’s blog because I wanted to keep telling people to leave Amerikkka. But I may run it tomorrow, with that nice photo Jesper has of you on his blog! It won’t be an attack or anything, but it will open up this murky question of ethnocentric japanology.