Both Japanese conservatives and Western orientalists are quick to claim that a lack of visible, external opposition to the social system in Japan is serious proof of a society built on perfect consensus. Now with the expansion of new media in Japan — namely, BBS’s, blogs, and online forums — the world gets a less-mediated view of how individual Japanese see their society. Those hoping for an outpouring of discontent have generally been disappointed with the current blog boom‘s pedestrian, non-controversial content, but I think we’ve yet to see some ultimate level of “free” expression.
The heavily critical chatter and information exchange on the national BBS 2-ch shows that the Japanese are happy to vent, rant, and criticize when giving the promise of anonymity. The popularity of “anonymous blogs” further confirms this idea. This phenomenon suggests quite clearly that social pressures, norms, and conventions are the number-one barrier towards self-expression in Japan, not media access. Japanese running personal blogs under their own name know that they must take social responsibility for their ideas and opinions, and under this pressure, generally step away from critical topics. (Yuki says so herself.) Just like Japan’s weekly tabloids rarely use bylines in order to protect the writer from backlash, anonymity is the most obvious self-protection strategy on the Internet as well.
Anonymous blogging and BBS posting could still lead to an information revolution in Japan, but anonymous sources have almost no credibility. When writers take responsibility for their own words, they also bestow upon them any trust located within the position of the author. A well-written anonymous essay criticizing the Bush White House would be perceived differently than one openly known as the work of an Republican ex-White House staffer. At present, I can read about many taboo topics on 2-ch, but I must go elsewhere to validate the information.
All in all, the Internet appears to be a mere extension of “regular” social space, and the most important factor for change in Japanese behavior is a chance for anonymity. But the oligopolistic mass media will probably exploit this natural desire for anonymity to further demonstrate how ideas generated in the blogosphere are fundamentally untrustworthy.