The special feature for November 2009′s Cyzo is “Japan’s Taboos.” This does not entail stories on sticking chopsticks upright into a bowl of rice — they mean “media taboos.” Those accustomed to the Fourth Estate and rampant tabloid journalism will be a bit underwhelmed by what is considered “off-limits” in the Japanese mainstream press: Critical coverage of the male talent company Johnny’s Jimusho, reasons behind recent politician suicides, Glay’s management disputes, Yon-sama business intrigue, a CEO getting arrested for amphetamines, the dark side of adult video (there’s a dark side???), and serious flaws in Queen Subtitler Toda Natsuko‘s work.
None of these stories seem particularly shocking or controversial, but because the Japanese mainstream media is highly dependent upon the dominant companies for access to information and talent, magazines tend to avoid getting their hands dirty in muckraking. Cyzo can get away with it only because they’ve created an alternate set of marginal advertising sources for their revenue structure, and they have access to a sea of frustrated first-rate journalists with stories to tell on the sly.
Another headline in this “taboo” vein caught my eye last week: The vicious and well-read political tabloid Shukan Shincho reported on a Korean television special looking into the “new religion” Soka Gakkai’s leader Ikeda Daisaku. One of the subheads boasted information about, “the ‘Dark Sides” of Soka Gakkai that could never be broadcasted in Japan!” Most of the shukanshi magazines work in this manner. They don’t break stories as much as write about someone else — foreigners, 2-channel denizens — breaking a story. Now Shincho loves to hate on SGI, but lawsuits in the past have made them think twice about opening up another volley. But since a Korean network dished out criticism against the powerful SGI leader, the magazine gets to have a field day bashing their least favorite spiritual organization — all while hiding behind a wall of “Hey, we’re just writing about foreign broadcasting content!”
What is interesting is how both publications sell themselves on an idea of a self-censored Japanese media. The second-tier semi-tabloid press has a market niche of consumers who understand the standard practice of information sanitization, and these readers want to see the naughty bits left on the cutting floor.
At the end of the day, Cyzo or Shukan Shincho can get “taboo” info out into the public sphere, but with much lower credibility than the big five media companies could bestow. These topics, while broached, generally stay out in the fringes of discussion. Breaking taboos in this way may be a temporary release, but they hardly put a dent in the fortress. Maybe the Internet will rot the foundations of the current structure, but until then, Japan is still a place — in all seriousness — where the media is not allowed to say bad things about boy bands.