Hamasaki Ayumi Engagement: Ultimate Paranoid Narrative

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The other day I had the chance to interview an actual member of the Japanese television network music-media complex, and that person confirmed all the terrible things I had only once believed were part of my comfortably paranoid fantasy of how the Japanese entertainment world works. So in this new spirit of assuming the worst and being right, let us re-examine the Hamasaki Ayumi engagement saga.

1) Johnny’s Jimusho has secret deals with the other big jimushos to create media stories that Johnny’s male idols are dating the top ranked female idols. At almost every time, the biggest selling female idol coincidentally happens to be dating one of Johnny’s stars. But they’re not really dating, and that’s why some of the ladies end up marrying other people out of the blue to everyone’s great surprise. Clearly, Avex had made the same deal with JJ, setting up Hamasaki with Nagase from TOKIO for show purposes.

2) So, huge egg on everyone’s face when Shukan Bunshun comes out with the news that Hamasaki Ayumi is actually dating a non-geinoujin American — not Nagase — and the engagement suggests that the Nagase relationship has been off for a while, even though the media was pretending it was on.

3) Avex freaks out because (a) Johnny’s sees this as Avex’s problem to be cleaned up and (b) they don’t want this development to affect the sales of their biggest artist.

4) Immediately, Avex goes into disinformation mode, warns all the networks and papers not to report the engagement story — an order to which the media of course obliges.

5) Finally, when the story “breaks” in the mainstream media, it comes out with various anonymous sources claiming that Hamasaki is well-known to visit gay bars, and perhaps, Tim is just one of her friends from that world * wink, wink *. The engagement is off, there is a suggestion that Bunshun invented the Tiffany’s story, and he must be really gay. Problem solved. Nobody in the media asks follow up questions.

I find it highly possible that the engagement was real and that the structures of the Japanese entertainment scene have again crushed someone’s private life. But this world is all about giri (duty) vs. ninjou (human emotions), with the latter being impossible when there’s money to be made.

W. David MARX (Marxy)
December 11, 2005

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

24 Responses

  1. porandojin Says:

    do you really think it crushed Hamasaki’s life?

  2. dzima Says:

    Clearly, Avex had made the same deal with JJ, setting up Hamasaki with Nagase from TOKIO for show purposes.

    That is a shocker! I got to write to my mum about it.

    But ultimately, like alin said the other day, doesn’t this conspiracy happens everywhere? You’re forgetting about those good ol’ celebrity goss magazines back home. ブラピ and who not would do everything to be on their covers, while of course keeping some privacy for themselves.

  3. marxy Says:

    Yes, in every single other country, powerful management companies determine the public love lives of all their stars. That whole Madonna-Sean Penn thing was a record company plot. Japan, again, is proved to be exactly like everywhere else because there are no levels of degrees between 0 and 1.

  4. dzima Says:

    I see what you’re trying to say but American celebrities will certainly use their genuine relationships/break-ups in their favour, to create positive publicity for themselves.

    Once again, it’s the individual celebrity taking care of their own image in America Vs. the group behind the celebrity taking care of the tarento’s image in Japan.

  5. marxy Says:

    But it’s not “group with equal distribution of power.” Artists cannot leave their jimushos, but jimushos can kick out artists. Jimushos make all the decisions. “Group” implies everyone having equal say, equal share, working towards a real consensus. The mafia is a group, but people don’t get whacked in a “individual vs. group” sort of reductive framework. And seeing where these jimusho get their organizational structure from…

  6. marxy Says:

    Let’s say it this way, the unit of stardom in the United States is the actor/musician/performer, where the unit in Japan is the jimusho. Artists are just employees. And when you add an American individual into the mix, artists start thinking they have the freedom to marry whomever they want.

  7. Yaten Says:

    Marxy: Japan, again, is proved to be exactly like everywhere else because there are no levels of degrees between 0 and 1.

    …Why does Japan have to be better than everywhere else?

  8. guest Says:

    The mafia comparison is more immediate and fitting, but is it totally off-base to talk about the jimusho as cult (as opposed to the Hollywood phenomenon of the cult as jimusho)?

    If I may be so provocative, I might add that some definitions of “cult behavior” fit the dominant ideology of Japanese-ness rather well.

    Is it improper to be selective or uneven in our application of the notion that “society doesn’t exist?” Are some societies (i.e. those with less equal access to information) more fictional than others?

  9. marxy Says:

    …Why does Japan have to be better than everywhere else?

    It doesn’t and that’s not the issue. The point of exploring this kind of event is to get at the way Japan “works.” Information control is key to the Japanese system: Free-market capitalism values efficiency, and a key to that efficiency is direct reporting on society to maintain the accuracy of market information. Japan’s economy is more about stability than efficiency – keeping the state approved companies with economic power in control – and this carries over to a media more interested in protecting the establishment than challenging it. I’m not suggesting that the “government” is directly pressuring the media to not run stories about Hamasaki Ayumi and Tim, but the mass media’s automatic decision to obey Avex’s order comes out of a different conception of media roles than in the United States or Europe. In other countries, do entertainment companies have enough power to prevent gossipy television shows from discussing the contents of an already published article about the biggest star in the country? Seems unlikely.

    A lot of Japanese people think this “情報操作” stinks and they would like it to be removed. But before we even dwell upon the normative side of the issue, we should at least look into the ways that companies can control the news in Japan – all the way from big corporate coverups to small meaningless gossip.

    is it totally off-base to talk about the jimusho as cult (as opposed to the Hollywood phenomenon of the cult as jimusho)?

    I’m not sure the jimusho is based on a structure of leader/believer. It’s more like a strict form of management/employee where the rules of behavior are extra-legal.

  10. dzima Says:

    Free-market capitalism values efficiency, and a key to that efficiency is direct reporting on society to maintain the accuracy of market information

    Gosh, doesn’t this efficient free-market information make me feel relieved! After all, I know through the media that my job might be made redundant at any minute!

  11. marxy Says:

    Exactly. Knowing the “real” story of your favorite star’s divorce is the payoff for constantly losing employment to restructuring.

  12. guest Says:

    But for the same reason, isn’t the perceived, ever-present societal serenity of Japanese culture what you find comforting?

    Or does your stance as a foreigner grant you “all of their strengths, none of their weaknesses”? Allowing you the Japanese penchant for keeping up appearances, without dashing away your consistent forthrightness or honesty?

  13. roddy Says:

    “Allowing you the Japanese penchant for keeping up appearances, without dashing away your consistent forthrightness or honesty?”

    Ouch.

    When I lived in Tokyo I really enjoyed the warm bubble of Japanese society. And I always felt that the culture produced its own methods of compensation and self-correction that were difficult for me to see from my western perspective. But I did get the sense that trying to inject my own ethical calculous into the country’s specific social balance didn’t really help things, probably just confused the matter.

    Certainly, it’s clear, what the media conglomerates are doing is just so so wrong. But what is the goal of exposing it? So we can all share in the moral outrage?

  14. (the previous) guest Says:

    [Just as a point of info, it seems there are now, as there have been in the past, multiple “guests” posting here. I was responsible for the first post but not the second.]

    I was mostly joking with the cult comparison. I doubt Johnny makes any claims to divine authority. However, my question about the fictitious nature of society was sincere. I wonder if proponents of the notion that “society doesn’t exist” (i.e. Althusser, Laclau, Mouffe) would consider all alleged societies equally fictitious, or if Japanese society is especially fictitious because of the degree of obfuscation/supression/repression of antagonisms…

  15. marxy Says:

    But what is the goal of exposing it? So we can all share in the moral outrage?

    I’m not telling you all to act directly upon this information, but I don’t see the hurt in knowing how the system works. If you would all like me to keep quiet about the dark side of Japan from now on so that we can enjoy Japan with less moral panic, I’d be happy to do so. Or you can just read Click Opera. He does this much better than I.

    Or better, I can write about what I want to write about and you can choose to ignore it or make up post-Everything explanations to prove the Japanese media system to be superior.

    isn’t the perceived, ever-present societal serenity of Japanese culture what you find comforting?

    No. I don’t. Maybe some Japanese do. I probably openly accepted that social order in my early years of studying Japan, but the process of researching Japanese consumer behavior really pointed out a lot of heavy things I had ignored about how that cohesion is created.

  16. alin Says:

    so while every self-respecting, searching japanese is moving in directions they wish to follow, and the system(‘s non-totalitarian nature) not only allows but encourages it, makes it necessary, you go, and go, and go… in oposite direction towards the belly of the beast, but there is no belly , there is no beast, it’s just an index. (like the imperial palace).
    like a masochistic don don don don qui ho o te in the land of the rising sun.

  17. alin Says:

    if the above seems wrong or exagerated think searching, moving etc sans the (wild) fronteer mindset

  18. jasong Says:

    Can you imagine a Japanese artist leading a campaign against their own label the way Prince did in the US? 絶対無理 But as mentioned, most of the “artists” are simply and truly “employees” here, so why would they? In the film business, there’s a fairly noticeable trend of producers, actors and other people going 独立 (independent) and opening their own shops to get out from under the inflexibility (I wouldn’t go so far as to call it “oppression”) of big studios/jimushos. And the film biz is nowhere near as harsh as music to begin with (Star Wars review censoring notwithstanding!)

    I think people, especially those outside of Japan, criticize your indignation over these forms of media collusion because they can’t see how it affects you personally. If your blog were about immigration issues, say, it would be understandable, but maybe readers think “Yeah, okay, the things that go on in Japan’s media are not right, but as a gaijin, why do you care?” Does it affect you as a foreign musician living in Japan? etc.

    Just playing devil’s advocate, mind — these things should be written about in English…nobody else is doing it.

    Poor Tim…does the lad have a blog?

  19. alin Says:

    In the film business, there’s a fairly noticeable trend of producers, actors and other people going 独立 (independent)

    but this trend’s been going on for ages in music too that’s why i find all the fuss kind of bizzare. also bizarre here is the dubious tendency do find ‘equivalents’ that don’t aim at a healthy look at the situation but simply to create a carricature. if you really need equivalents do look for the more equivalent ones.

    most of the “artists” are simply and truly “employees” here

    indeed, and not only ‘here’. also lumping together the culture machine with individual efforts isn’t very productive.

  20. jasong Says:

    indeed, and not only ‘here’

    True, but the image of “lifetime employment” is still a very Japanese one, even though it’s changing. I don’t know the Japanese music business, but are artists here having internecine wars with their labels, label-hopping, or going DIY at the rate of US or British musicians? Is there a current, foreign equivalent in the music biz to Johnny’s and his way of taking care of business?

    Going back to the original story, what is the algorithm that says that if Ayu has a foreign fiance, her sales will be lower than if she has a Japanese boyfriend from another label? Isn’t the former a more sensational sales-booster?

  21. nate Says:

    jasong… it’s not ayu’s image that’s being damaged… it’s her contractual BF from Tokio’s image.

  22. marxy Says:

    Exactly, this is more about Johnny’s than Avex. This incident suggests to the Japanese public that the Nagase-Ayu romance may be a hoax. Creating these kinds of media fantasies only work when people think they’re authentic.

    Plus, Johnny’s talent should be dumping girls, not being dumped.

  23. jasong Says:

    Are Johnny’s stable of talent really seen as lady-killers? Erm…

    So if Nagase is dumped, Tokio’s record sales go down? Part of their sales were dependent on him going out with Ayu? It’s so shallow that it’s complex to me. Marxy, are you sure you want to be in the music business here?

  24. guest Says:

    To address my own question from a while back (if I may be so uncouth) about whether some societies (i.e. those with less equal access to information) are more “fictional” than others, I thought I might mention Castoriadis’ concept of Autonomous vs. Heteronomous societies:

    (from Wikipedia)
    “While all societies make their own imaginaries (institutions, laws, traditions, beliefs and behaviors), autonomous societies are those that their members do know this fact, and explicitly self-institute. In contrast, the members of heteronomous societies attribute their imaginaries to some extra-social authority (i.e. God, ancestors, historical necessity).”

    It might be better to think of this as a spectrum rather than a binary. Where does contemporary Japan fall on the spectrum?