Does the Long Tail Apply to Japan?

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The July 2006 issue of Wired had an excerpt from Chris Anderson’s book The Long Tail called “The Rise and Fall of the Hit.” In recent years, sales for “blockbuster” movies and “hit” songs have been in decline. Smash-hit TV shows like American Idol cannot hold a candle to The Cosby Show. Anderson sees cannibalization as the primary cause: There has been a massive increase in niche media alternatives which eat into the sales of mainstream, mass-market items. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 created 700 FM stations, and this fragmentation sent shrapnel into the big boys. Cable is killing network TV. Internet values of personal-tailoring hurts the idea of “broadcasting.”

This all makes perfect sense, and just across the sea, Japan is suffering from a similar host of symptoms. Media markets have all being shrinking since the late 90s, CDs almost never break the 1 million mark, and hits lack a cultural importance they once did: Orange Range is no Pink Lady.

Of course then, similar structural forces are at work? Not really.

The first point of contention is the fact that Japan has not seen a dramatic increase in alternate content. Cable diffusion is still low, and nary a non-basic channel has scored a real hit on the scale of The Sopranos, Sex and the City, South Park, and Battlestar Galactica.

Second, a lot of the technological change has not had a big impact on information diffusion. Radio is as marginal in Japan as it has ever been. Anderson sees the iPod as a direct competitor to radio in American daily car commutes, but in Japan, the iPod replaces the MD player — used mainly by those on foot and train. This does not lead to a substantial change in habits.

Third, despite cheap and widely-available broadband, there seems to be no indication that the Internet is giving rise to a large amount of “culture” in Japan. Think about the Japanese YouTube boom of recent months: For the most part, Japanese fans are uploading pre-recorded pieces from mainstream TV and posting them for archival purposes. This is a great service to the world and tends to create new memes, but the content itself is just a re-arranged version of Big Network programming. Where is your Homestar Runner or Ask a Ninja or Yacht Rock? Not that these are giving Lost a run for their money, but they perfectly illustrate the new “water cooler” content you may chat to your peers about.

Anderson writes, “The hierarchy of attention has inverted — credibility now rises from below.” This seems to be a culturally-contingent idea. Americans are open to the idea of credibility collected from grassroots, democratic action in a way that the Japanese are not. I see this as related to Confucian ideas of propriety, but regardless, young Japanese consumers need their cultural items to have a legitimacy that can only be bestowed from above. It is not just that they saw a song on the prime-time TV show Music Station and decided they like it: Transmission through that institution makes it a “safe” purchase. This goes hand-in-hand with an extremely closed entertainment industry where one megalithic advertising firm works with a half-dozen shady talent agencies to create nationwide cross-media campaigns and anoint stars through sheer force. Lightsaber kid has no chance against this kind of monster — unless he signs up with Burning Production.

Japan’s cultural industry meltdown is better explained by a sharp decrease of youth consumers with discretionary income — something that does not seem to plague the United States. Right now, Japan sees smaller market hits but those items that hit are still being widely regarded as “the most important” — a phenomenon I call “the Leftover Plurality.” Johnny’s Jimusho boy idols like Kat-tun seem to be big time players these days even though their sales for that genre are essentially the same as ever. The rest of the market has just fallen under their toes.

Anderson sees American consumers as having “internalized the bookkeeping of entertainment risk capital” — supporting market winners and assigning cultural importance by sales. In Japan — especially the music market — this has always been true, and the decrease in sales means more and more items drifting below that arbitrary “threshold” of sales that represents a necessary level of “social acceptance” for safe purchase. A lack of safe items means congregation in big ticket champions with easily-understood social meanings, Louis Vuitton being your perfect example.

Technological progress will help niche culture flourish in Japan, but the system’s traditional orientation towards using the market as a way to validate social propriety should fundamentally marginalize anything not coming out of the TV box. The Long Tail depends upon legitimacy from below, and this is not the most natural concept to Japanese culture.

W. David MARX (Marxy)
August 11, 2006

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

173 Responses

  1. fukumimi Says:

    You may be interested in this critique of the Long Tail hypothesis which ran in the WSJ, which argues that the effect is not nearly as big as its lead proponent claims, even in the US.

    http://online.wsj.com/public/article/SB115387606762117314-8UtS_oO2KcHEUk5ElXKhpW_ni_M_20060825.html?mod=tff_article

  2. Momus Says:

    Two years ago you were telling us that “Japan is a nation without content”. Now you say “Japan has not seen a dramatic increase in alternate content”. It’s progress… of a sort.

    Your arguments about how iPods and YouTube mean something infinitely worse in Japan than they do in America (and how the dismal Yacht Rock should inspire watercooler conversations when Oh! Mikey can’t) are some of your most racist ever, and I’d advise you to stop this stuff NOW before you breach some sort of hate speech regulations.

  3. alin Says:

    no indication that the internet is giving rise to a large amount of “culture” in Japan “culture” in Japan

    momus has pretty mich got it but just for the record what exactly do you define as culture ?

  4. Adamu Says:

    Racism accusations aside, Lightsaber kid is a different phenomenon entirely from something like homestar runner. Homestar runner is a full-on content business that makes money off merchandise sales, while lightsaber kid is a one-off video that would have had a soft and less widespread landing in Youtube if it had been passed around today – I’m sure it had its own merchandise to go along with the lame remixes, but if so it was offered by third-party opportunists and not the content creator himself (the poor dope).

    So lightsaber kid made the rounds of places like fark and the much-hated ebaumsworld – and I would contend that while Japan’s Internet might not have a homestar runner (though things like Shiraishi of the Coop might be coming close), it most certainly DOES have its counterparts of ebaumsworld and newgrounds. Have you never seen the scores of popular 2ch-inspired content? Chinko Ondo? Perry no Yoshinoya? Numa numa?

    And one more: Densha Otoko, the biggest online-generated hit ever in Japan. Remember you wondered if he was real? Well, he still hasn’t shown up to collect his prize money. But who has? Book, manga, movie and TV producers!

    I think The Long Tail is a highly specific look at the US marketplace for content, so you’re right – it’s not really applicable to Japan. For one thing, it really is striking how many people in their pajamas are making big hits in the US. Japan’s Internet usage – goddamn it it’s true – is just not to the level of the US, and I think the hits that the Japanese Internet will generate will bear a resemblance to the current relationship between bloggers/2ch and the news media. As seen with Numa Numa and Densha Otoko, the big companies will look for or even create hits and then co-opt them.

  5. Mulboyne Says:

    One possible counterexample is the way Japanese pornographers and their customers have quickly embraced the internet and circumvented old models of distribution. You no longer need to produce a mass market hit to make decent money and amateur porn magazines, photos, DVDs, videos, stories etc. have proliferated. It isn’t clear yet whether they are taking market share from the majors or growing the whole market. I’m not sure what concept of legitimacy, if any, applies to that market.

  6. Momus Says:

    Americans are open to the idea of credibility collected from grassroots, democratic action in a way that the Japanese are not

    This explains why FRUiTS, Tune, Street, Shibuya PPP, and all those other magazines full of pictures of what people are wearing on the streets are American, not Japanese.

  7. alin Says:

    but that is a totally different kind of grassroots and doesn’t count says neomarxian nihonjinron

  8. Chris_B Says:

    Mulboyne: pornographers everywhere tend to ebrace new media first. Though if it will help Japan’s ailing porn busniess is another question.

    Marxy: First of all I’m not sure the intial concept of long tail was worth a whole book, second now that it has become one, it has been hyped endlessly by the net.koolaid types (Tim O’Reilly, the fetid boing boing crew, etc). These people seeem so desperate for relevancy that they latch on to any idea and build it up as the next Big Thing with little in the way of critical thought. As far as I’m concerned, something being on Wired is pretty much the redline of my personal bullshit detector.

    If you want to look at the original concept of long tail as applied to the Japanese market, I’d say it would be very hard to model that since the very idea of back catalog on which the theory depends is vey new to the marketspace here.

  9. alin Says:

    i mean i’m sure neomarxians [don’t] see that (as simply the feedback part of the consumer loop – since it was Lui Vuiton in colaboration with the yakuza who decided what those people should wear in the first place.) and those magazine’s popularity is in decline anyway

  10. Momus Says:

    I’m also confused by the argument about Japan not having “legitimacy from below”, when you are arguing that Japan assigns cultural importance by sales (“supporting market winners and assigning cultural importance by sales”). Now, this seems perfectly democratic to me, in the sense that it comes from the actions of consumers. But for you, somehow, this equates to culture being imposed from above: “young Japanese consumers need their cultural items to have a legitimacy that can only be bestowed from above.” Surely “assigning cultural importance by sales” is the opposite of waiting for someone “above” to tell you what to buy? Aside from the fact that you’ve consistently explained “Confucian, orthopractical” Japanese culture as being top-down, I don’t know how this squares with grassroot mass market sales being the determinant thing.

    You link to an essay which links to my “Relativism swings right” essay, but you don’t seem to have taken on board one of the key implications of the new situation: that in relativism, there is no up or down any more, only across.

  11. Mulboyne Says:

    “pornographers everywhere tend to embrace new media first”

    I completely agree. As you say, it seems to be to soon to draw too many conclusions but if the technology has had some impact in an area known to adopt innovations early then it means that other fields of entertainment could follow later. If pornographers were still keeping to their old methods then would be a better sign that broadband diffusion would not have the impact seen elsewhere.

    Today’s Independent has an item on how EMAP is closing a teen mag because of changes brought on by the web in the UK:

    http://news.independent.co.uk/business/news/article1218452.ece

    “the very idea of back catalog on which the theory depends is vey new to the marketspace here”

    It’s interesting you mention that. I remember looking in HMV around 1995 for some of the bands I remembered from an earlier stay in 1990. Many of them weren’t there even though they had sold well enough in their heyday. Then around 2000 they seemed to start appearing again even though there were no new releases. That, admittedly highly selective, observation seems to back up your statement

  12. trevor Says:

    wow. now marxy is racist? well i guess that would make sense if china is your utopia.

  13. marxy Says:

    are some of your most racist ever, and I’d advise you to stop this stuff NOW before you breach some sort of hate speech regulations.

    Awesome.

  14. Momus Says:

    Nothing has changed; racist is just a less academic word for “ethnocentric”, which he’s often been accused of.

  15. marxy Says:

    This guy!

  16. der Says:

    which he’s often been accused of…

    … by the same person who made the other accusation. Which means it must be true.


    racist is just a less academic word for “ethnocentric”

    .. and this just shows that you don’t know the meaning of at least one of those words. Or that your sense of proportion is completely blown. But your comments and your essays recently suggest as much anyway.

  17. trevor Says:

    Nothing has changed; racist is just a less academic word for “ethnocentric”, which he’s often been accused of.

    “Awesome” is totally correct. i mean, did fox news hire you or something? what will you say next? that China is a great social model?

  18. marxy Says:

    and how the dismal Yacht Rock should inspire watercooler conversations when Oh! Mikey can’t

    Where did “Oh! Mikey” come from? The television! Where did “Yacht Rock” come from? The internet! Where did I say that Yacht Rock was any good? I don’t mean to defend it – although you should probably know that a lot of Japanese find Oh! Mikey to be “ダサイ、やりすぎ” and have the subtlety of a 関西バンド

    Densha Otoko

    …would have been very, very minor had Dentsu and the big boys not picked it up. It was “niche nerd” water cooler conversation so it still gets some points though.

    I’m not sure what concept of legitimacy, if any, applies to that market.

    Social acceptance and propriety is not such a big thing with porn.

    FRUITS etc.

    No one reads FRUITS as a manual. I am not saying it’s not bought and enjoyed, but it is not a “how to” like the other magazines. It does not teach you how to dress “legitimately” — which is the expressed purpose of the others.

    but you don’t seem to have taken on board one of the key implications of the new situation

    I have not taken in your word as full Gospel! Call the Inquistion. I still haven’t accepted that Futura 2000’s son isn’t black yet either — you should punch me in the face for that one.

    I feel like my assholeness is pretty constant, but Momus seems to be on fire these days.

  19. Chris_B Says:

    yeah he is a flamer

  20. P P Says:

    Americans are open to the idea of credibility collected from grassroots, democratic action in a way that the Japanese are not. I see this as related to Confucian ideas of propriety, but regardless, young Japanese consumers need their cultural items to have a legitimacy that can only be bestowed from above.

    For example: Momus. If there is a hierarchical ladder of culture distribution in Japan, he surely is trying to get to its upper rungs. Of course his Wired column now gets read in Japan as he exclaims from the top.

  21. Momus Says:

    I’m not seeing any attempt to explain the key contradiction I’ve pointed out in Marxy’s argument here:

    1. He says Japan doesn’t do “legitimacy from below”. (If you point to some, he says “But that’s not a manual.”)

    2. He says that Japan assigns cultural importance by sales.

    3. So mass market sales are not “below”?

    4. He agrees with me that everything has got relativized.

    5. But remains silent on whether this means we should abandon the whole metaphor of “above” and “below”.

    6. I wonder if he needs to cling to this “imposed from above / Confucianism / orthopraxy / authoritarianism” model because if he accepted that things come from the side he’d have to accept that he was criticizing a culture, not its cruel masters.

    7. Which brings us back to the meaning of “ethnocentric”.

  22. der Says:

    Note: You are advised to always operate under the assumption that Momus is allowed to do everything, including criticising cultures (e.g., puritan American culture), but that from this nothing follows about what you are allowed to do. Quod licet Momus non licet bovi.

  23. Momus Says:

    I think there’s a significant difference between criticizing your own culture (and I’m part of the UK and US culture I criticize) and someone else’s. Anyway, this is a diversion, the numbered stuff is the important bit.

  24. alin Says:

    the above

    i think anyone is basically allowed by anyone to critisize any particular aspect of any culture they like as long as there’s a reasonable understanding on the criticiser’s behalf of the object criticized. momus so far, as far as i know has only criticized specific elements of american culture and so far , again as far as i know, no one on the defense side has been able to say “momus, hey, you understand shit about america so shut up”. on the other hand what both momus and i are often saying is that marxy has a rather limited understanding of only certain aspects of the culture yet (he and his supporters might not see it as such) and on top of that what he comes up with ammounts to a criticism of the entire culture (the few reddeming features are usually apologetic)

    on almost every single point of his critiques it can be argued that he doesn’t quite get the premise (barking up the wrong tree).

  25. der Says:

    it seems to me more that the position of the both of you is that anyone can say what they want as long as they agree with you.

  26. trevor Says:

    i agree with Der’s last point.
    it seems to me more that the position of the both of you is that anyone can say what they want as long as they agree with you.

    i agree that anyone can critize anyone.
    so i don’t get then why alin’s and momus’ panties are in a twist.
    and i do think momus as about 0 understanding of america, from an amazingly artificial view (ads and billboards).

    and i would wager that marxy know more about the workings & life in/of japan then alin and momus combined. i don’t know alin’s state in/about japan though. but i think momus also only understands japan from a completely superficial level (like me). basic language skills, and never having to actually work in normal life makes it hard for me to swallow that momus understands everyjoe-japanese.

    and less anyone forget.. opinions do not make fact. they just make opinions.

  27. alin Says:

    allright, allright. new set of bodyguards from 6 months ago.

  28. Momus Says:

    I do think Marxy has excellent detail knowledge of Japan. The thing that lets him down is the framing, the big picture he always slots his detail analysis into.

    For instance, the way Marxy frames almost all his arguments so that he seems only to be criticizing authoritarianism in Japan, and not the Japanese people themselves. This is clearly a defense against the charge of ethnocentricity. By such arguments one can pose as a democrat while criticizing the very acts and tastes of the people.

    He also needs to give us precise definitions of words like “content” and “culture” (as requested by Alin upthread), especially when he’s putting them in scare quotes, as he did today; in other words, admitting there’s something problematical about the words.

  29. alin Says:

    and i would wager that marxy know more about the workings & life in/of japan

    coz he’s your mate right?

  30. Carl Says:

    The obvious counter examples are Ozone’s Numa Numa and Densha Otoko, except that those both only got really popular after they were put on TV.

    What about Matsuken Samba? Where the hell did that come from? Clearly, not the internet, but was it really from a jimusho? That seems equally unlikely.

  31. saru Says:

    I still don’t see how Momus thinks he is doing Japan any favors by using Japan as a cudgel to beat his conception of “the West” with– “Take that, West!!!”

  32. trevor Says:

    coz he’s your mate right?

    he is my mate sure. but it’s still the smart bet.
    but as i said, i don’t know you at all. you don’t even leave links to anything you may do on the web, so your really just a troll. i don’t even know if your in japan or not. fair or unfair as that may be. but i know my share of people in japan. marxy is pretty pro on spot. you know, going to an actual japanese school. working for actual japanese magazines and companies, thinking and writing and interacting in japanese. living “normal life” in japan. not some japanese & english language mesh. i’d place a pretty fat bet he knows more about the workings of things then you (alin). prove me wrong. where is your blog showing reasons with examples of why he’s so wong? i mean seriously? put up or shut up. atleast momus puts up.

  33. Momus Says:

    I still don’t see how Momus thinks he is doing Japan any favors by using Japan as a cudgel to beat his conception of “the West” with– “Take that, West!!!”

    I’d be happy with a level playing field. Not hammering the West, not hammering Japan, just agreeing that things are done differently and that that’s how cultures work.

    Aren’t you worried, though, when Marxy uses America as a cudgel to beat Japan with, as he does today? He says (in response to some well-researched answers yesterday, refuting his claim that Japan lags in broadband use), in effect: “Oh sure, okay, I admit Japan is using the internet, maybe you’re right that it’s now the US that’s lagging… but Japan isn’t using it right! Not like we Americans are! And why? Because they’re totally top-down people!” This begs the questions:

    1. Are Americans using the internet “right”?
    2. Aren’t Americans also top-down in their own way?
    3. Why should the Japanese use the internet the same way as the Americans do?
    4. And why should they be criticized for not doing so?
    5. Why are you changing from quantitative criteria to qualitative ones? You lost the argument on internet usage numbers, but you want to win it on something more nebulous?
    6. And yet you don’t want to define “culture”, which is surely central to any argument based on qualitative criteria?

  34. saru Says:

    I don’t think critical thinking about Japan equals bashing Japan, and though I have never met Marxy I seriously doubt that he is a flag-waving Bush-voting advocate of American exceptionalism. I don’t see the “Not like we Americans are” part of the equation. Whereas I have heard Momus’ podcast from the city I lived in, looking at an (admittedly, very nice) arcade and saying “Take that, West!!!”

  35. dzima Says:

    marxy is pretty pro on spot. you know, going to an actual japanese school. working for actual japanese magazines and companies, thinking and writing and interacting in japanese. living “normal life” in japan. not some japanese & english language mesh.

    Honestly, I don’t think Marxy had it that hard in Japan, after all he’s basically day after day bashing the culture and country which has financed his whole career. Also, if he wasn’t an American I don’t think he’d ever get to position he is at the moment.

    If you want to know more about the “dark side” of Japan, ask my Eastern European/South American/Southeast Asian friends who live, study and work hard there and have to “put up” with Japan in their daily lives. A few of them complain about the country but the majority has come to appreciate and respect the way things are done there (not that they don’t know about how bad it can be. They do!). One could say that they’re being grateful for being taken out of a difficult situation and given a uni scholarship by the Japanese government (thing that wouldn’t happen in America because there you have to pay $20000 upfront, innit) or you could say that they are not as obsessed about being ‘A-number 1’ like Americans are.

    An Argentinian friend of mine wanted to write his graduation thesis on Japanese host clubs and so he went on and did all research and gathered as much data and facts as he could. Anyway, his conclusion wasn’t about how “Japan is run by the yakuza, is inherently evil and doomed therefore my country, Argentina, is better” but something along the lines of “Japan has lots of faces and here’s an ugly one (host clubs). But still I understand that there are plenty of good things about this country”.

    Marxy on Neomarxisme is basically playing an intellectualised academic version of Sofia Coppola or Thom Yorke, sitting on a privileged throne, looking from the top down and pointing out things that are “wrong” and why oh why did Shibuya-kei had to end.

  36. marxy Says:

    Good to see the referendum on my blog is still open?

    Also great to see some new faces bashing me – welcome Momus, Alin, and Dzima.

    Whether Momus and Alin and Dzima are right about some factual point of interpretation, the most important thing to them is expressing how much my posts offend them. I am not breaking academic rules – I am being “privileged” (Dzima) or “racist” (Momus). Once you three made it clear that you seriously and pathologically dislike me, I have found it very difficult to take anything you say seriously.

    If your point is to wear me out completely of doing this blog and essentially scorch my earth, great job.

    I get corrected a lot on this blog by people who know what they are talking about and do not let the fact that I morally offend them bog down their points. I actually learn something.

  37. trevor Says:

    “Japan is run by the yakuza, is inherently evil and doomed therefore my country, Argentina, is better

    are you even reading his posts? can you show me where he said america was better then japan? why can’t he question japan’s obviously corrupt goverment? why does japan have to be so great? what about when familes leave because the husband lost their job? or when faimlies ingore their mentaly, or physicaly disabled children, actualy considering them a “burnden”.?

    i love my time i spend in japan. there are things about it that i find imeasurable great over the US. but its not “better” then the US. its just different. i don’t understand why japan should be free of questioning. everything should be questioned. the japanese gov. and media have no interest in the good of the people. though witch do? (i think none). but i don’t get why you guys think japan should be free of critizism..
    you guys site almost nothing as examples other then each other. (on why marxy is wrong) your like a bunch of christians. you just believe it. as so should everyone else cause you say so. witch you know is just flat bullshit.

  38. Adamu Says:

    OK, enough.

    Quick comment on “water cooler” talk. I haven’t read the book but I’ve been following some interviews/articles on it as well as the blog it’s based on. One point that the author makes is that one of the main features of the “long tail” phenomenon is that the splintering of culture into mini-hits makes it that much more difficult to find common things to talk about at work. I’ve experienced this personally working at a law firm. Even among other “Japan people” there was very little we had in common pop culture wise. The usual stuff – nostalgia, sports, the weather – is there but at least for me most of my *new* media consumption centers on the Internet.

    This phenomenon I find similar to the presence (or lack thereof) of 2ch in everyday life in Japan. This was 3 years ago, but when I was living in Japan I’d always try and guess who is a 2-channeler. It was very rare that I’d meet someone who admitted to being a Junin if they’d heard of it at all, though now perhaps there’s less stigma attached to 2ch (less associated with bus hijackers, more associated with Densha Otoko and the moe boom).

  39. Chris_B Says:

    marxy: all the assclowning from the usual suspects aside, do you have any thoughts on my comments above regarding the original premise of long tail and its applications in this market? Of all the people I know, you tend to have the best access to hard numbers and I’m genuinely interested in what you think on this one since I am curious about the original observations on the phenomenon of long tail sales in various markets.

    If it has any statistical validity, it could become an important planning tool for content publishers and non retail sales outlets. I’ve been following what Tim O’Reilly, Nick Carr, Chris Anderson and some others have had to say on the matter, and again, I’d like to know if the same sort of analysis might apply here.

  40. marxy Says:

    I don’t know if I buy the Long Tail business model – that WSJ article kind of makes it sound like the market is not quite there yet – but I think there is way more niche in the niche markets and that tends to pull away from the center while making people on the niches having less relation between each other. I think the middle, however, is being ignored. It still has a certain gravity regardless of shrinking sales.

    I ask this openly and not rhetorically to everyone: how has the iPod changed Japanese culture?

  41. matt Says:

    salary-nerds wear them round their necks instead of keitai ?

  42. alin Says:

    bashing me

    look, as far as i’m concerned a big issue with what you do is that you actualy consider civilized attempts at dilogue bashing, then that misunderstanding becomes basis for aggressive retaliation. no shit. marxy alone could probably manage some multi-lateral dialogue but when allies join in something near mass-histeria develops. (that’s why i said before that by the 3rd, 4th, 5th comment usually things go stupid).

    ———–

    the iPod as a direct competitor to radio in American daily car commutes, but in Japan, the iPod replaces the MD player – used mainly by those on foot and train. This does not lead to a substantial change in habits.

    goodness , this paragraph alone has as much cheauvinistic bias as all of fujiwara’s book. many might don’t think so just as many fujiwara readers don’t see his book as anything but natural.

  43. trevor Says:

    (that’s why i said before that by the 3rd, 4th, 5th comment usually things go stupid).
    hey! thats normally when you chime in. i’ll be.

  44. marxy Says:

    Good, I have been downgraded from racist to chauvinistic. Don’t worry guys though – I am still going to hell.

    Americans drive cars and used to listen to the radio while driving in cars. (Okay so far? Or is this wrong?)

    According to Anderson, the iPod has directly challenged radio by providing another source of “random” content in a way that a tape deck did not. (This seems straightforward enough, but I am missing my own ethnocentricity.)

    Therefore, less people may listen to mainstream radio. (I know this is totally racist, but bear with me.)

    The Japanese do not listen to radio. Look up the stats. iPods did not become a threat to radio or any other previous content source. (Am I correctly describing a market or am I bashing Japan here?)

  45. Jean Snow Says:

    how has the iPod changed Japanese culture?

    As you say, it hasn’t affected radio, but it might suggest that the Japanese are heavier computer users now (since you have to rip everything), and even that online music sales are on the rise (but I have absolutely no idea whether this is true or not, as I’ve never seen numbers for online sales).

  46. alin Says:

    (Am I correctly describing a market

    everything you say is correct. and as far as i understand you’re describing america and the way it operates pretty well. ( though some people might say that you’re a bit behind). to that aim even using japan as a point of comparison , and getting it only superficialy would be ok since the tolerance margin would be higher – but see that’s not what your stated aim is – so what you’re doing is exactly what fujiwara does when he forms opinions based on a narrow experience of america. at least understanding and explaining america and the west was not the goal of his book so he’s got one over you.

    the iPod as a direct competitor to radio in American daily car commutes, but in Japan, the iPod replaces the MD player – used mainly by those on foot and train. This does not lead to a substantial change in habits.

    this paragraph (like much else) has no hooks, no anchor in japan. both the start and the finishing line are in america

  47. marxy Says:

    I think this blog starts and ends with the idea that Japan and the United States are the two largest economies with the most profound popular cultures and progressive technology. Also note that Japan for the last 15-20 years has been regarded as “the future of the world.”

  48. alin Says:

    young Japanese consumers legitimacy that can only be bestowed from above.

    could you clarify:
    young Japanese consumers = / ≠ (young Japanese) people

    now while it’s true that in modus operandi , rather than in effect , the idea of having something legitamized by peers seems to be stronger in japan than in a western country the conclusion that everyone eats, drinks and listens to what the sempai does is simply not true – and most ‘legitimizing’ comes from the side rather than from above. a possibly negative effect of this is that thing often don’t go beyond a low common denominator – this i believe is a much stronger factor than the iron-fist confucian authority you’re describing.

    similarly the media that collects from grassroots is pretty much in equal feedback with the ‘manual’-media

  49. marxy Says:

    This will sound like a paradox, but those items that cross that “safe” level of sales have to have gone through an pre-legimitized media source:TV, for the most part. Grassroots has the nuance of trends starting on the street and gaining steam until they hit the mass media fully bloomed – and this is not really the pattern you see in Japan. Magazines may pick up small things they see unfolding in the city, but then the fact that it is in the authoritarian magazine is what makes it become a “legitimate” trend.

  50. alin Says:

    I think this blog starts and ends with the idea that Japan and the United States are the two largest economies with the most profound popular cultures and progressive technology.

    that premise might be due for revision.

    Also note that Japan for the last 15-20 years has been regarded as “the future of the world.”

    your mission then would be to prevent that from happening.

    like a paradox,

    i’m with you, i get what you’re saying but for goodness do take your brown and gold LV-coloured glasses off and consider the infinite variety of goods in circulation.

    the ‘village mentality’ has it’s own set of serious problems that need to be dealt with and worked out all the time last thing needed is to project a ficticious orwellian big-brother scenario over the situation.

  51. alin Says:

    the very idea of back catalog

    chris, while this is true (and rather shinto) in regards to the very surface dig a bit in any specific area you want and you find both markets and serious knowy-ness, value placed on 旧 – and 名 – etc

  52. nate Says:

    Hey, one for momus, one for marxy… (I’m trying to cut back on my alin)

    momus’ progessive list explaining why he doesn’t understand why mass market sales aren’t bottom up: URA liar. Half of the content of marxy’s blog has been about the ability of media and distribution networks to manipulate consumer taste, and you know it.

    marxy, while the individual song, movie, act, etc may not be bottom up, any broader trend in japan counter to the constant drone of “pop” that you’d care to name (akiba, lohas, hip hop, ganguro, parapara, yankee, yankee revival, reggae, bodycon, blah blah blah) all spent time simmering “below”. It seems what bubbles up from the bottom is not an individual piece without reference, like the star wars kid, but either a mainstream-filtered impression of a broader culture (like densha otoko, or “lohas as magazine fodder”), or in the exceptional case of the numa numa song, the actual product of the existing culture.

  53. Momus Says:

    Half of the content of marxy’s blog has been about the ability of media and distribution networks to manipulate consumer taste, and you know it.

    I can only bounce my dear friend Marxy’s words back: “I have not taken in your word as full Gospel! Call the Inquistion.”

    Back in 2004, Marxy confessed to me: “I am too hard on Japan, but mainly because I feel that no one is providing a counterbalance to the superficial treatment of Japanese culture at the moment. I don’t know if I told you this, but I am currently getting my Master’s degree in Marketing and Consumer Behavior at Keio Univ., and my research focuses on the Japanese consumption system of cultural products and the role of information barriers and individual information processing in creating consumption patterns. If you look at Japan from this angle, everything is a little less glamourous. I think any deep exploration into why things happen leads to disappointment. It’s not just magic. There are strings being pulled from above.”

    There’s another word for the view that “there are strings being pulled from above”: conspiracy theory. It does very well on the internet, I hear. But if it worked, marketing would be the easiest job in the world. Over to you, Marxy?

  54. marxy Says:

    Funny you mention conspiracy theories.

    I was talking with an actor last night who was on a recent drama with Ito Misaki, and he was telling me in dirty detail how the casting process works for shows. The problem with yelling “conspiracy theory” at me is that things are infinitely worse and shadowy than I could even describe. I am not going to convince you by just saying “the mob runs the talent industry” but if you were me and heard people very in the know – some in the mob – tell you information that all matches up with the similar sources on the internet, you start to say, “Hey , this is not just me being paranoid.”

    So believe you what you will, but I tend to start taking things out of the “conspiracy theory” file when those actually involved start telling me, “Yes, that’s exactly how it works…”

    The problem is not that you think I am wrong, but that you can score some easy points by throwing the “CT” word around, giving yourself a high-five as if you have disproved me, and going to work on your newest CO essay.

  55. marxy Says:

    (Also, are all my personal, non-public email to you going to appear as quotes somewhere on the net?)

  56. Momus Says:

    are all my personal, non-public email to you going to appear as quotes somewhere on the net?

    No, but this was part of an exchange that was due to be published as an AIGA Voice article, so I figured you had already okayed publication. In fact, that planned conversation turned instead into duelling here.

    I still don’t understand how, if everything is decided in smoky private rooms, anyone in Japan works in marketing at all. Why is money wasted on advertising? Why are consumer magazines and mooks issued? Why do some products — even Johnny’s artists — fail?

  57. Chris_B Says:

    marxy I ask this openly and not rhetorically to everyone: how has the iPod changed Japanese culture?

    Based on what I’ve seen on the trains and of my coworkers ipods, I’m going with “replacing minidisc” so its more a change of consumption patterns than a change of culture. The first walkmen were a change of culture, ever since then its just been a change of consumption patterns.

    alin while this is true (and rather shinto)

    whadda load of momusian daiper filler. Besides the breif “natsukashi boom” last year, you still cant go to most retailers of new music, books or movies and easily obtain much in the way of mass market sales items of things which were popular in the not so recent past. Even Amazon doesnt sell that stuff because its out of print. Cant sell what dont exist.

    If anything, I see japan as the exemplary “short tail” marketplace where artificial scarcity of new products is created intentionally.

    I strongly suspect this is changing since the TV industry has recently asked for the laws to be changed so they can legally redistribute older shows without as many rights clearances. We’ll see how that extends to books, music and films though.

  58. der Says:

    Yeah, it’s this constant need to score points that amazes me, and the use of debating team rhetorics techniques (if it gets dangerous, divert to side issues; seize on small errors, and don’t even shy away from correcting spelling mistakes if necessary; and the old favourite: take existentially quantified statements and treat them as universally quantified, so that you can pretend that giving one counterexample disproves them; the list goes on).

    I find it difficult not to believe that’s what at stake here are not the individual issues but rather is the question of who gets to interpret Japan to the (English speaking) world (… well, Internet at least). For Momus, who has built a modest journalistic career on his being accepted as master interpretor, winning these debates has existential relevance. What’s in it for alin and dzima I don’t know. Maybe it’s just that their intellectual inferiority complex is tickled.

  59. Momus Says:

    Meta meta meta, der. I’m still waiting for answers to substantive questions.

    How do you define culture in such a way that it allows you to say one culture is better than another? Why, if everything is top-down, does advertising exist? Who gets to decide what the “right” way to use the internet, or an iPod, is?

  60. marxy Says:

    Advertising in Japan is interesting, because the Japanese market has the world’s largest advertising firm – Dentsu – which takes up about 25% of the market. Dentsu “invented” advertising on TV in Japan, so they do around 75% of TV ad sponsorship. Firms in Japan do not charge clients based on hours or work – they just charge a commission on media sold. This means they convince everyone to do TV ads whether they are best for the client or not.

    When an ad firm does the campaigns for 5 rival car companies, funny things start to happen. This is exactly why you never see “comparative ads” in Japan – why would Dentsu want to hurt one of its clients to help another? It is also odd that so many firms give their entire campaigns to firms working on the campaigns of their rivals. “Conflict of interest” is not a transportable concept.

    So if you are not Dentsu (or their 1/2 sized rival Hakuhodo or their 1/2-sized rival ADK), you are basically picking up the scraps.

    I still don’t understand how, if everything is decided in smoky private rooms, anyone in Japan works in marketing at al

    They make decisions about products, about who gets what, in backrooms and then they inform the public of the decisions using media.

    Why, if everything is top-down, does advertising exist?

    Whether top down or not, firms have to inform consumers of their products. Thus, ads. And big ads in Japan also “legitimize” products. This is true in the U.S. as well, but the Japanese market is more demanding of legitimacy in their products.

    Who gets to decide what the “right” way to use the internet, or an iPod, is?

    I am not sure anyone said using a iPod as a replacement for radio is “right” or why you would extrapolate that from my essay, except for some odd sense of permanent suspicion. All I am saying is that the internet in Japan has not caused an explosion in content rivaling “traditional” media, but this is changing. The legitimacy issue, however, is certainly slowing it down. Can Cam is Can Cam because it’s Can Cam!

    Why do some products — even Johnny’s artists — fail?

    The three years or so when Johnny’s bit it (early 90s), music consumers stopped buying things based on what they saw on the primetime music shows. This was the “Band Boom” and everyone went to rock clubs to see shows. This was inspired by a TV show – irony. Johnny’s used their total monopoly on Music Station etc. to launch a large group of new artists, including SMAP, V6, Kinki Kids and target a new cohort of kids who were just coming to consumer age. I am not sure why exactly things shifted back to the primetime shows so quickly, but it may have helped that the producers finally started letting these non-jimusho Band Boom bands on their shows out of desperation and viewers came back.

    This – along with Shibuya-kei and Shibu-kaji – were somewhat anomalous episodes where suddenly the source of product information shifted and consumers rebelled against their traditional teachers. In closed off markets, however, the powers that be can usually ride things out and bring everyone back to their seats. This was how Ura-Harajuku happened. The guys who lost their Harajuku clientele invested in some kids named Nigo, Fujiwara Hiroshi, Jonio…

  61. trevor Says:

    alin, momus, dzima, you guys are like a bunch of children, who can’t deal with the fact that they don’t know everything. why does marxy need to awnser all these questions and you guys don’t? why is he just wrong, and your not? wheres your proof thats he’s wrong?
    you guys are acting like a bunch of creationist. though i will give momus the silver star for atleast forming new questions, and changing his attack strategies.. an “acceptable” for you other too. you atleast show up and run through the paces. but if you can’t lose those imaginary friends, you might have to be held back a grade because of social development issues.

  62. alin Says:

    trevor, guru marxy doesn’t know quite everything, he doesn’t seem to know for example that shibuya casual started as a bubble phenomenon – long before so-called shibuya key. (do your research and i might score a tiny point)

  63. marxy Says:

    I am not the chiimaa you were, but I wasn’t lumping Shibu-kaji as Shibuya-kei. They were both rebellions against “the order” and did start at relatively close times (’88 for the DC-backlash/move to loafers vs. ’89 for the start of flipper’s guitar). Also, for bonus points, both started by rich kids from Tokyo!

  64. alin Says:

    but we’ve learned here that flipper’s guitar only faked rebelion. i see, there’s rebelion and then there’s rebelion.

  65. trevor Says:

    guru marxy doesn’t know quite everything

    alin: when did i say that? i must have missed it somehow.
    and so then, you know everything?? can you point me to some of your writings or research so i can be as smart as you?
    i’m lost on where you get your information from? other then yourself & and i guess momus. your credibility really stink you know?

  66. Momus Says:

    The case study of Dentsu is interesting, but I’d suggest that the domination of the advertising market by one company, just like the apparent permanence of the LDP as the party of government, has as much to do with Japanese spirit of wa dislike of conflict than a top-down argument. In other words, lack of rival-knocking commercials, lack of agency rivalry etc is as well explained by horizontality as by the kind of verticality you’re claiming.

  67. trevor Says:

    i see, there’s rebelion and then there’s rebelion.

    i do agree with this. there is rebelion as sold (x-games, moutain dew), then rebelion. (80’s street art (i question its rebellious state now though), squatting, militants)

  68. alin Says:

    i’m lost on where you get your information from?

    trevor, it’s a bit funny but i happen to live literaly in the shadow of the Dentsu Tower and you know little particles of information sort of keep droping from there into my balcony kind of like dust and since i wouldn’t know what to do with it i kind of decided to put it here. sorry.

  69. Mutantfrog Says:

    I tried to post a long comment before the thread got going but had an error. I’ll try cutting into two parts and see if it works.

    Marxy, I think you make a very big mistake in ignoring manga, which is easily the most significant repository of pop culture in Japan.

    As you have said in the past, the long commutes ubiquitous in Japan have led to a weak television market, since a large percentage of the population does not spend the peak television watching hours in their home. You have also admitted that this is a significant contributing factor to the large size of the publishing industry and high per capita consumption of print media. What you have never really discussed though is what people are actually reading. At least aside from the fashion/lifestyle magazines and tabloid weeklies that you spend so much time researching.

    Japan publishes (and sells) a very large amount of both domestic and translated fiction and non-fiction, as well as a truly astounding amount and variety of manga. In fact, I think it is probably safe to say that manga is really the repository of much of Japan’s important shared pop culture. You bemoan the lack of important cultural touchstones in popular music or television, without realizing that the manga world is where much of the creative energy that you are looking for is going, and has been going.

  70. trevor Says:

    alin: neat! do you work for them? i mean. i would guess no. but plain text has a way of being amazing deceiving. or did you “marry” into japan. and you literaly just live next to the building.
    or, your just a plain old jerkass. witch still might be the case!
    see, now i don’t think your just a punk ass troll. just a normal troll. (well, only if you actualy work for dentsu inc. other wise, its still punk ass troll status for you)
    maybe you should start your own blog and put the information dust there? then you too could be a interweb authority.. and not just a comment troll! it would be great. really really great. i would read it every day!

  71. alin Says:

    if marxy somehow manages to know as much facts about manga as he knows about shibuya-kei and extreme nihonjinron, include it in the discussions get some decent feedback and still be able to mentain his attitude i’m off to akasaka , look for the 893 in funny suits and black cars and hang around them at whatever risk until marxy eventually bumps into me then beg him to take me as his disciple.

  72. dzima Says:

    Technological progress will help niche culture flourish in Japan

    Marxy,

    I have recently come across the Wacca (http://wacca.tv/) website and I must say it feels pretty “legitimate from below”. What do you think about it?

    I know you’re going to say it’s at least two years behind MySpace and it’s never going to be as popular as its American counterpart but people there are uploading their own creations and not mainstream TV shows. I think of it (and Mixi too) as the “gourmet version” of MySpace.

  73. nate Says:

    BTW, from the little bit of the long tail blog I’ve read, marxy seems to misinterpret the idea a bit, as does the critic mentioned in the first comment.

    The long tail exists… and is perhaps more vibrantly alive in Japan than anywhere else. The extreme end of the tail is comprised of very exacting consumers with tastes and demands that do not align with the big hits. Consequently, they are willing to put more money and time into the highly specialized products that they desire. The thesis is that catering to these people can be as profitable as catering to the lumpen mass, and that changes in distribution of media and goods will make more an more consumers into picky snobs.

    I’d be damned surprised if Japan weren’t being used as an example in the book. Also, momus, you lose points for not bringing out that old example of the shelves at tsutaya being filled with weird, fringe stuff. It finally applied to the conversation at hand for once, and you missed your chance.

    Independent, bottom-up culture is an ideal that doesn’t necessarily have much to do with the long tail. People at the far end could be consuming bollywood or $400 a bottle perfume… it’s the lack of volume, not the source.
    See jeansnow’s blog and mocoloco, and countless others for tons of examples of normally middle-class marketed companies like disney and nike seeking out the fringe consumer. The recent designer disney and nike select excursions can be contrasted with, for example, the indie movie, and big label “indie” music boom because their intent is not to create hits, but to enjoy the sizable profits available at the edge.

  74. Mulboyne Says:

    Look at the history of Dentsu. It was originally both a wire service and an advertising agency. They received advertising space from newspapers for their news reports which they then resold to others for a fee. The militarist government effectively took over Dentsu and used the news service to create Domei in 1936 which became a major tool of wartime propaganda. The allies split the company into separate news wire services (Kyodo for domestic and Jiji for overseas/economic) and an advertising agency after the war but the latter never forgot it’s original role in content and you will still see a Dentsu unit involved in financing film and television projects today. And, of course, Jiji and Kyodo remain the top shareholders of Dentsu.

    Japanese advertising companies are also different to their western counterparts in performing roles that would more typically seen as the function of political lobbyists. This isn’t comparable to Saatchi and Saatchi designing a campaign for Margaret Thatcher’s Conservatives. Tokyu Agency is well-known for having arranged for yakuza-linked right wing gangs to suppress public opposition to the privatization of Japan National Railways on behalf of the ruling factions of the LDP.

    You might talk about the “spirit of wa” being behind the domination of Dentsu but you wouldn’t just be barking up the wrong tree, you’d be in the wrong forest.

    I think MutantFrog’s point about manga is a good one. Television might amplify the impact of a particular comic but they won’t take up a property until it already has built up some momentum and there’s no machine in the manner of Johnny’s Jimusho to set the process in motion.

  75. marxy Says:

    has as much to do with Japanese spirit of wa dislike of conflict than a top-down argument.

    As Mulboyne very graciously explains, you can’t just say, this is “wa” because it looks like it, without actually going and taking a look at the historical circumstances of Dentsu. You have a country with a long history of high market concentrations and statism, and of course, this just becomes “wa” in your mind.

    I’ve recently figured out what your mode of analysis is: you are 100% right-brain, distrust anything that leans on left-brain usage (especially economics and economic sociology), and are interested in anthropology as if it were some new type of literary theory. And the philosophers in your favor are all essentially literary theorists. You like Marx as a philosopher and treat socialism as if it saves us from having to deal with any icky markets, currencies, investment rates, etc. – even though someone like Schumpeter would tell you that perfect socialism would still have to retain most of that. (Not that you are going to read an economist – they’re all neo-liberal!)

    And you bring that literary theory eye to Japan – reading it like a text, refusing to bring in any kind of outside sources, believing your self-interpretation is as valid as anyone else’s, seeing all behavior and phenomena as static and ahistorical.

    So of course we are going to butt heads about all this because I was “trained” to look at all this with a harder social science eye. This doesn’t automatically make me right or excuse my mistakes, but last time I checked Japan is a country, not a book.

  76. marxy Says:

    I have recently come across the Wacca (http://wacca.tv/) website and I must say it feels pretty “legitimate from below”.

    This is the kind of thing that could change everything, but I am not sure how much impact it has at the moment. If you think about it, for all the hype of MP3.com in the 90s even, did it produce a single “star”? Or I guess the question is, did it really take people away from listening to mainstream music? Indies in Japan is now about 10% of the market – but not because it’s growing that fast, it’s just that the mainstream market has fallen hard. Less people are interested in music in total.

    The recent designer disney and nike select excursions can be contrasted with, for example, the indie movie, and big label “indie” music boom because their intent is not to create hits, but to enjoy the sizable profits available at the edge.

    If we are talking about sales on “the edge,” surely the 90s (sorry, guys) would have had been even better for this theory than now. When the market is up, more products cross the threshold and are “safe.” As less money goes into the market in total, more on the fringe loses credibility and falls faster. I would like to see data on how much big companies make off small fringe products, but I think one of the constant “business” criticisms of Japan (I know, neo-liberal, right?) is that companies make way too much stuff for too many small groups and it’s all super unprofitable.

  77. dzima Says:

    for all the hype of MP3.com in the 90s even, did it produce a single “star”?

    Why bring this example up after MySpace and all? After all, MySpace has produced stars or helped establish existing ones.

    Also, MySpace seems to be in tune with current marketing strategies by American music labels: it seems “real”, “down to earth”, “authentic”, almost “democratic” despite being created by well-off arty computer programmers from Southern California and be now owned by the biggest news manipulator of them all.

  78. nate Says:

    I beg to differ that the nineties were better about sales on the edge… though I honestly know nothing about 90’s Japan that you havent told me via this blog. The very paradigm of the niche market is exemplified by the growing class of akiba-style expert consumers. (Like a lot of what goes on around here, my convictions is a matter of my beliefs about Japan rather than something statistically provable… and is in a nebulous enough a realm such that no statistics will really cover enough of the picture to cut off recurring obections.)

    Even with the rise of Uniqlo, Japan seems hugely open to minor brands and boutique shops compared to the US. For example, in an Aomori-sized american city, you wouldn’t be likely to find many independent clothing shops at all, nor independent hardware, gardening, grocery, etc shops. In this sense, in America, all but the sub-cultures that eschew brand legitimacy are as reliant on top-down marketing and distribution for “the other 99%” of their lives. (entertainment media making up the excluded 1% where America is slightly more bottom-up).

    marxy”As less money goes into the market in total, more on the fringe loses credibility and falls faster.”
    That’s the thing about the long tail (theoretically)… those edge consumers, for better or worse, don’t fit into the normal “credibility” realm. You have to suit their needs alone and completely. If tarou wants a figurine of Princess Peach with visible panties, no amount of market legitimacy is going to make that statuette where the plastic is a solid mold down to the ankles work for him.

    and about that “‘business’ criticism”… who is making it? It sounds either like pure hateration from foreign companies that aren’t getting into the market well, or paternalism. Japanese companies aren’t really doing so poorly, if you watch the business news. According to mr. longtail, maybe this is just another one of those ways in which Japan has been a harbinger market change. (I swear I haven’t turned into momus overnight)

  79. nate Says:

    dzima:
    “despite being created by well-off arty computer programmers…”

    is that a bad thing? What part of culture is it that you enjoy that’s not dominated by the well off and arty?
    I’m no big proponent of myspace, but what’s democratic about it is that the content is user created, not that the creator has a smelly beard. The evil in fox owning it is that fox now has a bunch of user info, and is gonna make more money… that and they might change things to be more evil. They’re providing no more of the content than they were before buying it.

  80. dzima Says:

    Alin,

    the idea of having something legitamized by peers seems to be stronger in japan than in a western country the conclusion that everyone eats, drinks and listens to what the senpai does is simply not true – and most ‘legitimizing’ comes from the side rather than from above.

    This is actually true. If Marxy or anyone here had done an undergraduate course at uni and been a member of art/music circles while there, they’d know that.

  81. dzima Says:

    Nate,

    is that a bad thing? What part of culture is it that you enjoy that’s not dominated by the well off and arty?

    A&R major label people are always “down to earth” and “in tune” with the bands they’re trying to sign so that they give the label even better terms in the contract.

    In the case of Myspace, have you read their terms & conditions? They basically claimed to own whatever you posted on their website (I just double checked it and apparently they have recently changed that)

  82. nate Says:

    hey, sales is sales. You think the US army recruits by sending PHDs to talk to the underprivileged? Hate the game, not the player.

  83. marxy Says:

    Why bring this example up after MySpace and all?

    Because Wacca is more like MP3.com – although that may be overemphasizing its relevancy.

    Marxy or anyone here had done an undergraduate course at uni and been a member of art/music circles while there, they’d know that.

    So now the fact that I was a “graduate” student invalidates my experience at a Japanese university. I guess being involved in an a tight undergraduate seminar of 40 students for three years does not count.

    Even in circles and zemi, kohai/sempai matters. To say there is some side-legitimizing is fair. To say that hierarchy doesn’t exist or isn’t a central part of Japanese culture is fantasizing.

  84. dzima Says:

    To say that hierarchy doesn’t exist or isn’t a central part of Japanese culture is fantasizing.

    I haven’t said that, I was just trying to point out that Marxy forgot to add some flesh to his numbers.

  85. alin Says:

    very exacting consumers with tastes and demands that do not align with the big hits. Consequently, they are willing to put more money and time into the highly specialized products that they desire.

    Also, momus, you lose points for not bringing out that old example of the shelves at tsutaya being filled with weird, fringe stuff. It finally applied to the conversation at hand for once, and you missed your chance.

    etc

    nate, i’m glad you phrased that in a way that seems to have survived the iron-fist. but wait, marxy hasn’t been around yet. (still, he’s much more tolerant to you so it should be ok)

  86. marxy Says:

    I accidentally posted a comment as “Roy Berman.” Long story, but I was not trying to pretend like I was someone else. (I had tried to post it for Roy, who had some weird glitch and could not post on his end. I ended up not being able to post it either, but the name was stuck in my comment box.)

  87. nate Says:

    marxy’s really well connected.

  88. Momus Says:

    Nate answers Marxy’s line that I am “refusing to bring in any kind of outside sources, believing your self-interpretation is as valid as anyone else’s” whereas he “was “trained” to look at all this with a harder social science eye” very well:

    Like a lot of what goes on around here, my conviction is a matter of my beliefs about Japan rather than something statistically provable… no statistics will really cover enough of the picture to cut off recurring obections.

    Statistics and case studies are great in and of themselves, but ultimately we all have ideological positions, which is why some kind of politico-literary debate is inevitable (and Marxy totally encourages it by giving us his pre- and proscriptions at the end of each concrete case).

  89. Momus Says:

    When Robert Duckworth recently complained on his blog that “the whole David vs. Momus thing is pretty much played out. I for one think there is much, much more to be learned elsewhere”, someone commented in support of Marxy, saying that the only other commentator on Japan as good was William Pesek Jnr, Bloomberg’s correspondent in Tokyo.

    Read Pesek’s columns (google them, the spam filter here is abominable and won’t let me post URLs) and you’ll find that he’s a “shareholder activist” whose response to almost everything that happens in Japan is to call for more competition, more aggressive acquisitions and mergers, more hostile bids, etc. From his neo-liberal viewpoint, it’s impossible to imagine any good coming of anything in Japan which doesn’t co-incide with the interests of shareholders and the international money markets. Quite frankly, reading Japan “like a book” would do the man a power of good, if only because it might help him see his own “hard and factual” biases as, themselves, ideology and narrative.

    If I’m here for a reason, it’s to stop Marxy becoming a Pesek. It may be too late, though.

  90. marxy Says:

    There apparently is no middle-ground between dogmatic relativism and neo-liberalism.

  91. nate Says:

    yeah, but.

    I agree with his objection that you’re being too left-brained and “literarily-theoretical” about things. Responding again and again that all injustice and information imbalance in Japan is a willful contract that the Japanese have entered into smells insincere to me. There’s a big difference between “stastics aren’t going to paint a complete and accurate picture of the market” and “Japanese people love everything about and incidental to Japan”.

    Have you ever agreed with one of Marxy’s
    suggestions that Japan has some piece of systematic unfairness? Have you ever disagreed with a suggestion of something systematically wrong with the states?

    Momus, in your novel, the Japanese are an overly simplistic character. Give them some space to enjoy social equality, to have a marketplace with some flaws, to think outside of a very small social mindset that you have prescribed them.

    The contrarian crew can’t really think that marxy is limiting the Japanese by saying they are often concerned with their own interest, can they? You all can’t really think that ichiro schmoe on the street values the intangible “wa” internal to each industry enough to be eager to pay for it from his own pocket, can you?

  92. Andreas Says:

    Cfr. comment by Jean Snow: “[…] and even that online music sales are on the rise (but I have absolutely no idea whether this is true or not, as I’ve never seen numbers for online sales).”

    Yes, they are on the rise, esp. mobile downloads (according to the RIAJ’s own numbers, that is).

    Some links and thoughts to further fuel the discussion:

    * This otherwise lame J@pan Inc article states that KDDI’s mobile music offering includes a lot of niche stuff (or at least more than rivaling DoCoMo and Vodafone services): “One of the remarkable things about KDDI is that they have welcomed all kinds of niche music sites operated by third-party aggregators onto their EZWeb menu portal.” No word about sales though, so it’s impossible to draw any conclusions from this. Still, interesting, I think.

    * Tim Wu has written an interesting Long Tail review for Slate: “The Wrong Tail”. Worth a read.

    * This Springwise article suggests that “curated consumption” > “long tail” in Japan and points to the Ranking Ranqueen chain as an illustration of this theory.

    * Marxy, you talk about “legitimacy from below” and how it’s “not the most natural concept to Japanese culture”. I’m not really convinced – how do you explain the success of Wikipedia JP (currently more than 244,000 articles), for instance?

  93. marxy Says:

    I am suspicious of RanKing RanQueen being based on “objective” data.

    Re: Wikipedia – I do not think the Japanese refuse to read information not from above, but will they act on it? Knowing something isn’t especially dangerous in a social context, but consuming and brandishing an item may be. Has any major Japanese fashion site been able to prove its legitimacy without using the normal channels? Peach John is interesting and new, but seems they are advertising with the usual methods.

    Maybe my concept works (best or only) with fashion consumption, and possibly, music consumption. But there is not much danger in knowing or reading something and I doubt the need for legitimacy will stop the spread of information on the Net.

  94. nate Says:

    the long tail critique is not especially worth reading, unless you like demolishing straw-men. Granted, since I haven’t read the book, I can’t guarantee that I’m right, but I have a strong impression that the book is not a monolithic endorsement of huge companies gobbling up an even creating extreme niche markets.

  95. Andreas Says:

    I am suspicious of RanKing RanQueen being based on “objective” data.

    Well, maybe that’s exactly the point!

    […] Knowing something isn’t especially dangerous in a social context, but consuming and brandishing an item may be.

    OK. Hadn’t thought about it that way.

    Maybe my concept works (best or only) with fashion consumption, and possibly, music consumption.

    I wonder how alternative (social) recommendation mechanisms will influence Japan’s music landscape in the next couple of years. I’m talking about taste sharing functionality à la Mixi, or else, taste sharing/music recommendation websites like Last.fm (JP version was launched earlier this month).

  96. Mulboyne Says:

    Re: William Pesek & economics

    I think Pesek changes his mind too often to be easily labelled anything let alone neo-liberal. I’m not sure what the commenter on Robert Duckworth’s blog meant but I don’t have to like a columnist’s conclusions to appreciate the topics he or she might be raising and so I regularly read Pesek. He’s writing for the investment community so of course he is going to be looking at Japan through that perspective. Whether you support his views or reject them doesn’t invalidate the fact that an economic explanation of a Japanese phenomenom is often the best one. Not looking at economic motives has made a monkey out of many a Japan hand over the years. It is very easy to get sucked into believing that something is “the Japanese way” – your Japanese contacts will often tell you so – and then watch in surprise as it suddenly becomes no longer the Japanese way because the economics which actually did underpin the behaviour change.

    That’s one of the biggest hazards for anyone looking at Japan. You tend to learn the language, the culture and the people with much excitement and a huge investment of time and energy over an initial concentrated period but when that’s over, you can’t afford to stop learning. As long-time Japan hand Steve Bildermann once put it on another forum: “Over the years I have formed the opinion that there are indeed many non-Japanese who have spend a long time living here, know reams about Japan, it’s language and culture but are stuck with attitudes and prejudices they formed during their first year in Japan. Watching ‘em expounding on TV or anywhere else for that matter I always find myself asking have they *really* spent 20 years living in Japan or lived one year in Japan 20 times”. These are the people you will hear saying “that will never happen in Japan” because it doesn’t fit with the view they have of how Japan works. Then events subsequently prove them wrong. One way of avoiding that trap is to understand why people do what they do and economics turns out to be a great explanatory tool in Japan just as it is for other countries.

  97. Momus Says:

    I agree with his objection that you’re being too left-brained and “literarily-theoretical” about things.

    Except that — oh no! — Marxy’s objection was completely the opposite. He said:

    you are 100% right-brain, distrust anything that leans on left-brain usage

    What the hell, left brain, right brain, as long as Momus is on the wrong side, we’ll go with it.

  98. Momus Says:

    By the way, claims that Neomarxisme is based on “hard-headed social science realism” are false. This blog is very much an exercise in “If I were king of Japan I’d…” or “If all Japanese would listen to me, I’d tell them to…”, whereas the critique of it mounted by Dzima, myself, Alin, Roddy Schrock and others is much more realistic: “Look, this is how Japan actually is. Deal with it.”

    Sure, the radical demands for change presented here are often justified as being “on behalf of “Ichiro Schmoe on the street” (God, he already sounds so incongruously Jewish!), but your effort to “correct” Japan faces the problem all radical efforts by outsiders face; who the hell are you to tell another culture how to live? Parallels with the Middle East, South America and Cuba, alas, abound. No sooner is Fidel Castro in the operating theatre than Condi is calling for an uprising on the island. For the good of Jose Schmoe, of course.

  99. Momus Says:

    The secret behind this blog: Because he’s the same height and nationality as Douglas MacArthur, Marxy wants to be the 21st century version.

    The tragedy behind this blog: Although the US has a Truman-like figure in George W. Bush, it now lacks the moral and political legitimacy to have MacArthur figures who can restructure other nations in relatively benign and disinteresed ways.

  100. nate Says:

    “this is the way Japan is”… OK, then fuck all of your complaining about America again, huh?

    Whether or not Japan or America is just this way or that, not every aspect of a country is the natural, just and good result of a democratic endorsement. Whether by historical accident, great leadership, massive corruption, power imbalance or whatnot, a country is not necesarily the mirror image of the soul of it’s people.

    Even if you disagree with him on the reforms that ought to be engaged and how to set them in place, your certainty that all is well and the toyota is in his flivver is just lame… especially when you give a thumbs up to organized crime and racist nationalism.
    I quote you out of context, but “improve the cops, improve the state” is a valid standpoint, even if you’re in the fringes of the society.

    more momus:”your effort to “correct” Japan faces the problem all radical efforts by outsiders face”… A: his suggestions aren’t often radical. B:It’s only a pretty small class of people that insist that Japanese society is for ethnic Japanese only. There’s even a gaijin in the house of representatives, man. Do you cease to be an outsider only when you agree with the status quo?

  101. nate Says:

    “The tragedy behind this blog”: say what?

    Has marxy become your stand in for all things American?

  102. dzima Says:

    Third, despite cheap and widely-available broadband, there seems to be no indication that the internet is giving rise to a large amount of “culture” in Japan.

    Let’s forget the Japan-America centrism here and focus on South Korea for a minute. I found this Wired article talking about the influence of broadband on Korean culture (Joi Ito also writes about it here). Both entries talk a lot about gaming and blogging but I don’t know if Marxy would regard these activities as cultural.

    Now, notice this line on the last paragraph of page 3 of the Wired article:

    In the US, cable, telephone, and media companies spin visions of set-top boxes and online jukeboxes, trying to “leverage content” and turn old archives into new media streams. There is a profound fear of empowering consumers to share media in a self-organizing way on a mass scale. Yet this is precisely what makes South Korea the broadband capital of the world.

    Looks like Marxy is comparing Japan to an idealised romantic place that doesn’t even exist in America to start with.

    (This blog also acknowledges that tools and inventions can have their uses adapted by different cultures)

  103. marxy Says:

    Korea is a shining example of progress, and I think their whole-hearted embrace of the internet will give them a huge advantage in the years to come.

    I am very interested in why Korea moved onto computer-based internet in contrast to Japan. What I have heard is that 1) the government made huge investments in infrastructure 2) parents would not buy their kids game consoles but would buy them computers for study, which they then used for online gaming. I am not sure these fill-in the whole picture.

    Interesting other point about Korea, just because they use computers for the net, the cell-phones do not lag behind Japan. (Samsung Electronics is also 2-3 times larger than Sony, by the way.)

    Gadget culture in Japan (which is a byproduct of having all your high-tech companies make “things”) moved people away from computers. Seems like in Korea, the computer just made more sense as a central device – first for gaming, then for everything else.

  104. Momus Says:

    From the blog Dzima linked: “I’m not quite sure what I want to say here, but I think it comes down to how surprised I am that the Korean broadband revolution is so, well, Korean! And not something that is immediately recognizable as the future for the rest of us once we catch up in broadband penetration.”

    Good point, bringing us back to cultural particularism. But of course, by the same logic, we shouldn’t be surprised that what Marxy does with his own broadband is so, well, Marxyesque! Perhaps we’re betraying our own culturalist principles by trying to reform him.

  105. dzima Says:

    Here’s that blog’s author own thesis on broadband in Seoul. I just started reading it.

  106. Chris_B Says:

    late to the party as always, but…

    momus, somehow you grazed upon William Pesek and you hold him up as your anti-marxy bete du jour. I’m not sure how much you really know about the market here, but let me offer you some personal observations based upon the fact that I work for one of the largest Japanese wholesale investment banks.

    Even the Japanese themselves are calling for market reform and better oversite. Yep. I’ve had more conversations than I can cound on this matter with the top traders of fixed income and equities where I work.

    You think the push for JSOX came out of nowhere? You think that companies listed only in Japan are adopting large chunks of SOX for the fun of it or because its the “shinto thing to do”? Fact: Every investment bank is VERY upset with the TSE’s recent history of blunders. Fact: the BOJ & SCEC are as well. Fact: The LDP and DPJ have both been calling for better market oversight and transparency for listed firms. Fact: the company code was recently revised to eliminate an entire class of businesses (YK) in order in large part to promote transparency of corporate reporting.

    Go ahead and blame that on Western Devils or explain it away by some fooferaw pseudo political adage. In the end, the Japanese themselves wont give a crap what you say on the matter, they seem to have decided for themselves.

  107. Momus Says:

    Well, this is where we get to play “Which kind of right winger would you be if you were Japanese?” I’d be the kind very much against Koizumi’s privatization of the postal savings bank, whereas you, Pesek and Marxy would be the privatizing, internationalizing Koizumite kind.

    But, as you say, it’s all a game of “let’s pretend”. Ultimately, it’s the Japanese themselves who’ll decide.

  108. Chris_B Says:

    A dodge in true Momusian form. Appear to address the issue without addressing it at all. Yer outa yer depth. Ificially unqualified to opine on the matter at hand.

    Whats even funnier is the same things that get gotten away with here in the market would cause you to scream bloody murder were it in the West, yet I’ll betcha a dozen donuts that yer happy with the unique co-operative styles of behind the curtains deals that go on here just because its your milk giving Japan.

    And actually, I never said nothin about pretending, or the postal privatization, I just reported the facts as I seen em first hand.

  109. Momus Says:

    Chris, I didn’t realize you were hanging around so breathlessly, waiting to hear my take on financial instruments and exchange law. Maybe we can play a game of squash one day and discuss it over a dry malt afterwards at great length, with no women present, while the spongey rubber of our sneakers emits a slightly sweaty smell.

  110. junior Says:

    Geez, Momus, why do you waste so much time here coming up with new posts when you’re always saying the same thing? It would save you time and productivity to simply respond:

    “Shut up! Only the Japanese may critique the Japanese!” every time Marxy posts.

    That seems to be your one and only message.

  111. Momus Says:

    Yeah, Marxy has two messages: “I may critique the Japanese” and “Wasn’t [American grunge band / TV show] great!”

  112. saru Says:

    Funny, I thought it was “Wasn’t Pizzicato Five great!”

  113. Momus Says:

    [American grunge band / TV show / Japanese pop culture phenomenon between June 1994 and August 1998]

  114. der Says:

    Statistics and case studies are great in and of themselves, but ultimately we all have ideological positions

    Is that necessarily so? Sez who? Einstein? (Hihi, that was a classic moment..)

    which is why some kind of politico-literary debate is inevitable

    It all be so much better if you’d give us some advice on how such questions can be settled. Oh no, I forgot, they can’t be — there is no external standard for judging them. They really are debates, to be approached with rhetorics. (“U Aberdeen v. Harvard, tonight only!”)

    If I’m here for a reason, it’s to stop Marxy becoming a Pesek. It may be too late, though.

    If we’re replying for a reason, it’s to get you back from the lunatic fringe. It may be too late, though.

  115. Momus Says:

    Well, here I am on the lunatic fringe. There are others here with me. Rachel Dickens, for instance, quoted in an article in today’s Observer about British people making a life for themselves in France:

    “The locals say foreigners stay three months, three years, or forever. She thinks she’s here for the long haul. ‘If you’re not happy in your own country, you’re not going to be happy here. I was happy at home and I’m happy here. If you arrive and expect everything to be run the way you’re used to, then of course you’re going to antagonise people. Who wants a foreigner telling them what to do? You have to relax, learn the culture, accept how things happen. “Just because it’s different doesn’t mean it’s wrong.” That’s a phrase I repeat to myself a lot.'”

  116. der Says:

    Rachel Dickens, quoted in an article in today’s Observer: “you know, I believe that everything you utter necessarily comes from an ideological point of view. And so, if you ask me, do I believe in any universally applicable concepts, like truth, or human rights, I say, you have to relax, learn the culture, accept how things happen. There’s not truth, there’s just my truth and your truth, and there is no human right, just your human right and mine. And human right the Chinese way (meaning not existing), the Japanese way, the way we do it in 24 Spottiswoode Road, and so on. You know, just chill, alright?”

  117. Momus Says:

    Cultural relativism does lie behind her attitude, yes.

    It’s amazing to me that a sentiment like — one I would normally take for granted as the basic equipment of most reasonable people — now jumps out at me as something unusual, refreshing, quote-worthy. I think I’m spending too much time on this site. The ninja is condemned to internalize his opponent.

  118. junior Says:

    “If you’re not happy in your own country, you’re not going to be happy here.”

    I guess my Jewish ancestors got it wrong when they fled to America. They should have, as Rachel Dickens says, “accept how things happen.” After all, “There is no human right”!

  119. der Says:

    Well, there’s your favourite manoeuver again: of course “if you arrive and expect everything to be run in the way you are used to etc.pp.” is a completely sensible statement. Who would argue against that?

    But I suppose she’s talking about the way the French bake bread, or the house she lives in has a different kind of window than the house she lived in where ever she lived before. (Probably it now has double glazing, whereas in the UK it was one of those crappy windows that don’t close.) She’s probably not talking political theory.

    Also, I doubt that Marxy very often runs out on the street and shouts at people to stop fucking remove the products that were introduced just a month ago from the shelves. He’s analysing a situation. (Thirdly, in Marxy’s case, the antecedent is not applicable: “if you arrive and” — he’s not just arrived, he has lived there, correct me if I’m wrong, longer than you ever have.)

    I said this elsewhere, why do you always do that: if someone presents evidence for some concrete observation, you say that no evidence comes without ideology. This is a pretty heavy premise, on which your whole argument rests. If someone wants to discuss this premise, you suddenly go common sense / realpolitik.

  120. Momus Says:

    Fleeing somewhere toxic because you have to, though, is quite different from going somewhere voluntarily and calling its modus operandi toxic.

  121. Momus Says:

    (120 comments; is this the most Marxy’s ever got? And none of them are about viagra! Mention of the Nazis, though, suggests that, under Godwin’s Law, this thread is now doomed to meet a swift demise.)

  122. junior Says:

    I didn’t mention Nazis. My Jewish ancestors came from Russia.

    How dare you claim that genocide is “toxic”? You’ve tought me that such judgements are chauvinistic imperialism. And racist. People who are anti-genocide are racist.

    “Fleeing somewhere toxic because you have to, though, is quite different from going somewhere voluntarily and calling its modus operandi toxic.”

    So logically you are against American immigrant citizens participating in the political process.

  123. saru Says:

    Fleeing somewhere toxic because you have to, though, is quite different from going somewhere voluntarily and calling its modus operandi toxic.
    Do you come to this blog voluntarily, then?

  124. Momus Says:

    We seem to be getting back to Cultural Relativism 101. I’d like, if I may, to go back to a Terry Eagleton argument Marxy referred to in this entry (through a link to his “leftover plurality” idea, which was partly inspired by my discussion of Eagleton’s objection to cultural relativism). Here’s Eagleton:

    “The word “culture”, like the words “taste” or “evil”, means among other things: don’t argue. What we do is what we do. We cannot justify it rationally, but neither can you justify your objections to it. So we might as well declare a truce. As long as you let us get on with female infanticide, which is completely unremarkable in our society, we shall let you get on with the domestic violence that figures so richly in your own cultural tradition. Cultural relativism of this sort is highly convenient for the ruling powers. If it means that they cannot criticise other cultures, it also means that as a culture they are immune from criticism themselves.”

    This is very much Marxy’s line of argument: “cultural relativism is highly convenient for the ruling powers”.

    Now, Eagleton chooses to quote bad stuff in his argument — female infanticide and domestic violence. But we have to ask whether such things aren’t the “Nazism” of the anti-cultural relativism argument: relatively rare “beyond the pale” examples of cultural practises that most people in most cultures would find intolerable.

    As fringe cases, these examples aren’t the best thing to base a rejection of cultural relativism on. What’s more, Eagleton imagines a society where the powers that be make a pact; peace, in his example, is achieved by the powers in both nations agreeing to tolerate each other’s bad habits so that they can continue with their own.

    Worrying implication here: they should really go to war, condemn and intervene. Tony Blair would love this logic; it would totally justify his “humanitarian interventions” worldview. What Eagleton doesn’t go into is how the universal moral certitude he presents as an alternative to lax, permissive cultural relativism can easily be used as a fig leaf for the worst sort of imperialism. Relativism might be “convenient” for power, but its opposite, absolutism, is surely even more convenient.

  125. junior Says:

    “As fringe cases, these examples aren’t the best thing to base a rejection of cultural relativism on.”

    This whole “only the Japanese can criticise Japan” argument sounds to me like you’ve defined culture in a pretty artificial way.

    It seems to me that there’s billions of cultures in the world. Cultures of family, of region, of religion, of the planet, of language, of philosophy, of hobbies, of literature, etc.

    Saru made a good point, how dare you come here and to this web site, with its own cultural, modus operandi, and argue what happens here is wrong?

    Who am I to criticise George W. Bush, I’m neither a Republican nor a Texan?

  126. Mulboyne Says:

    Momus, aren’t you at all curious about how some of the aspects of Japan you like came to be and what they entail? And whether they always were part of Japan and what the likelihood is that they will remain part of Japan?

    Marxy may have ideas about how he would like certain practices in Japan to evolve or change but there are local commentators who share those ideas who would be underwhelmed by the argument that they “don’t get it.”

    You mention you are not in favour of postal privatization. Would you also have opposed the privatizations of NTT and JNR? Would you renationalize these companies? There are many sides to these debates and they are worth having no matter where you were born.

  127. Momus Says:

    Oh, don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great that Marxy puts so much work into giving us information about Japan. The fact that he also editorializes in ways guaranteed to outrage cultural relativists simply adds drama to what would otherwise be data. Eagleton says “The word culture means… don’t argue”, but I think we prove the opposite here: the word “culture” means do argue, and arguing is fine.

    Saru made a good point, how dare you come here and to this web site, with its own cultural, modus operandi, and argue what happens here is wrong?

    It would have been an even more fine point if I hadn’t made exactly the same point at my own expense a few inches above him. “We shouldn’t be surprised”, I wrote, “that what Marxy does with his own broadband is so, well, Marxyesque! Perhaps we’re betraying our own culturalist principles by trying to reform him.”

  128. der Says:

    This is very much Marxy’s line of argument: “cultural relativism is highly convenient for the ruling powers”.

    The argument seems to be more “a media culture of not criticising anything openly is highly convenient for the ruling powers” (i.e., it’s an intra-culture argument).

    You bring in the cultural relativism by saying that this is a) the way things work there and b) you are not allowed to criticize that if you are not “part of the culture”(tm), that is, you can’t make intra-culture statements as an “outsider”(tm) and c) if people are hurt by common practices, then that’s the way it goes.

    (Actually, I’m a bit unclear on c. Maybe you think that for example being blacklisted in Japan is somehow different from being blacklisted in the US? Feels different? Being-a-bat-different? Unknowably different. etc.)

  129. Momus Says:

    The argument seems to be more “a media culture of not criticising anything openly is highly convenient for the ruling powers” (i.e., it’s an intra-culture argument).

    But you see this is where we get back to the “let’s pretend” part of Neomarxisme. Let’s pretend Japan was listening to our suggestions about the ways it could stop “hurting” its own citizens. It’s a parallel world exercise. Every day Marxy is forced to create an imaginary realm where he is able to change Japan.

    One thing that interests me is how little he refers to actual campaigns by Japanese people to change their own society. There’s very little reference to, or approval of, for instance the campaign to save Shimokitazawa from the freeway, and none at all to the campaign to close the nuclear fuel waste reprocessing plant at the Rokkasho. When issues like LOHAS come up, Marxy will, when prodded, respond that he thinks they’re generally positive. But he’s oddly silent about Japanese-originated change. He also talks a lot “over the heads” of the democratic processes that are going on in Japan, preferring his own projections of what’s good for Japan to the stated desires of Japanese people. This is my “Why not ask a Japanese person?” point, which gets so jeered at here.

    The thing is, by excluding these Japanese perspectives Marxy makes it look as if he’s not really concerned with change in Japan. It looks like he’s more interested simply in charting his own long, slow process of disillusionment.

  130. Momus Says:

    In other words, there’s a lot of (ironically culturalist and exceptionalist) amateur anthropology here about why the Japanese don’t do democratic stuff (they’re “orthopractic”, Confucian, top-down, etc) and very little notice of what they actually are doing democratically. It’s almost as if Marxy wants his pessimism to be confirmed. And I think a certain cynicism about the sheeplike nature of the consumers you’re working with is quite reassuring to someone working in marketing. As I said before, it makes your marketing job a lot easier to assume that people are sheep who do what they’re told.

  131. der Says:

    One thing that interests me is how little he refers to actual campaigns by Japanese people to change their own society.

    What about privatisation of the post? But yeah, in general I think you may have a point there.

    Also — I know, this mirror image thing is getting old, but.. — your blog is pretty much only about things that confirm your optimism.

    (I’m giving up on trying to get some definite statement out of you about whether there are acts that can be called hurtful regardless of the ‘situatedness’ of agent, patient, and observer.)

  132. Momus Says:

    “Objectively hurtful” is something I can’t buy, no.

  133. der Says:

    being killed?

  134. Mulboyne Says:

    Two analysts who advise traditional broadcasters to change their ways suggest that the 2011 abolition of analog broadcasting will throw up difficulties:

    “Several million households might be unable to receive digital broadcasts because the necessary investments in digital broadcast facilities might not have been made in time…As of 2011…it will become impossible to view TV programs on anout 50% of the TVs in use”

    Annoying PDF link below

    http://www.nri.co.jp/english/opinion/papers/2006/pdf/np2006103.pdf

  135. marxy Says:

    I am surprised you mention Terry Eagleton on culture, seeing that he is a literary critic,

  136. nate Says:

    der’s right… we’re not often talking about how the Japanese orient their eggs in their egg cups. It’s almost always that government and industry are collusive and corrupt to the cost of the consumer. Once it gets into the papers, the people are offended by practices like Amakudari and other bid-rigging. Marxy’s complaint is that the papers keep out a lot of things that the people would care about. What if the people of Aomori had never been told at all about the proposed repurposing of the nuclear plant at rokkasho? They’d have had no room to object or approve (they overwhelmingly approved, btw).

    More often than not, the writing here suggests that the Japanese people should be informed. Now, I know there’s a big hairy “should” in the middle of that sentence, just a’ moralizing away.
    But the momus response is: The people in power (govt and industry) know perfectly well what’s good for the Japanese, and they wouldn’t care even if they knew. Now momus, using a veil of CR hides the fact that he’s just explained how the whole power structure of Japan “should” look, and claimed to know the hearts and minds of all the Japanese.

    And yet, who does marxy think he is, preaching democratic access to information!

  137. Chris_B Says:

    Mulboyne: digital terestrial broadcasting is an interesting point. Its a top down initiative,but at the same time it offers consumers more “choice” (for now) while at the same time its a major handout to the broadcasters. There is of course the parallel that the US also has a deadline and that both countries seem quite unprepared to meet it (or not).

    Momus: so just what does qualify someone to say other than nice words about where they live? Or is that just totally out of the question? Is it that if you went there by choice its not OK? After X number of generations are your decendants allowed to have a negative opinion?

    Of course that previous bit is a logic trap. I know you arent into logic, but as a pundit you have to deal with it sometimes. You could of course go to the end conclusion of feelings oreinted punditry and convert your entire blog and future columsn for Wired, Vice, etc into a interpretive dance I guess…

  138. saru Says:

    I have a feeling Momus got his Eagleton from lit-crit 101 textbook Literary Theory: An Introduction.

    Chris_B: To Momus, only nice things about Japan are able to be understood by “Westerners.” That which might be bad is just inscrutible.

  139. junior Says:

    “It would have been an even more fine point if I hadn’t made exactly the same point at my own expense a few inches above him. “We shouldn’t be surprised”, I wrote, “that what Marxy does with his own broadband is so, well, Marxyesque! Perhaps we’re betraying our own culturalist principles by trying to reform him.”

    So you concede that your philosophy is flawed and unworkable. You concede that you can’t go a single day without contradicting it, because its total b.s.

    I accept your apology.

  140. check Says:

    Consider.

    You work within an image-centric vocation, where you’ve fought for a decade to cultivate a small cult-of-personality based around a sense of exoticness.

    Would it, or would it not, be a threat to this image, if another individual, purporting (1) greater formal and informal education, (2) seamless linguistic ability, and (3) practical, day-to-day experience within said culture, began adroitly contradicting your finely polished pseudo-celebrity posturing?

    Would it be a cause of concern?

    Equally, what would be your best bet when arguing with said individual – what sort of arguments would you avoid?

  141. alin Says:

    There’s very little reference to, or approval of, for instance the campaign to save Shimokitazawa from the freeway, and none at all to the campaign to close the nuclear fuel waste reprocessing plant at the Rokkasho. When issues like LOHAS come up, Marxy will, when prodded, respond that he thinks they’re generally positive. But he’s oddly silent about Japanese-originated change. He also talks a lot “over the heads” of the democratic processes that are going on in Japan, preferring his own projections of what’s good for Japan to the stated desires of Japanese people.

    now that’s absolutely true whichever way you look at it although momus’ examples often might have a ‘googled’ ring about them which make them more vulnerable to this kind of freaky gangbang. you’re losing the plot guys. i wonder if the regular public lynching of momus here is not just a bitter surrogate activity comming from by a feeling of being left out the decision-making process. (now there might non-ethnic japanese in the house of representatives and and there should be but i doubt anyone here would get anywhere near – thank heavens).

    while i basically respect marxy’s effort and agree that japan is ridden with problems my concern is that his solutions ( which he doesn’t realy offer many anyway) are unaplicable because the diagnosis is usually quite off.

  142. alin Says:

    marxy, if your project here is not basically a right-brain art-like activity then you tell me what it is.

    (romantic megalomania? one man vs. a country)

  143. Momus Says:

    You work within an image-centric vocation, where you’ve fought for a decade to cultivate a small cult-of-personality based around a sense of exoticness.

    Is this meant to be me? I realize that not everybody who posts here knows who I am and what I do, so forgive me if I introduce myself. I work as a musician, writer, and, occasionally, visual artist who uses language. Hardly image-centric. Very little of my work has to do with “a sense of exoticness”. My next Wired column is about piezoelectricity!

    Would it, or would it not, be a threat to this image, if another individual, purporting (1) greater formal and informal education

    Not to pull rank on young Marxy here — his education is very impressive, even if it’s mostly in marketing — but I do have a first class MA degree and 20 years more “informal education” gathered living in the cities he’s lived in, and cities (and continents) he hasn’t. It’s not marketing, I know, but still…

    (2) seamless linguistic ability, and (3) practical, day-to-day experience within said culture

    Marxy does speak Japanese and have a job in Japan, which certainly is a huge advantage, but so does Chris B and so do lots of people here whose blogs, if they even have them, I don’t read. I will say, though, that I have considerably more practical experience in the Japanese culture industries than Marxy, having written and produced several actual bona fide chart hits for Japanese artists, appeared on Music Station, played stadia, worked directly with artist management companies, signed as an artist to major record and publishing labels in Japan, and so on. Sure, it’s not quite the view from Keio Univeristy’s marketing department, but it’s something!

    what would be your best bet when arguing with said individual – what sort of arguments would you avoid?

    I’m often accused of trying to drag Marxy’s arguments away from good old empirical data over to cultural stuff because I’m more into the art and culture stuff myself. But Marxy needs no encouragement — in every single piece he does he’s already there, arguing Japan’s cultural exceptionalism, bringing in Confucius and orthopraxy and so on. It makes his writing more interesting, but I do wish he had, for instance, a clear definition of “culture” before he waded into this stuff! And he still doesn’t seem to be aware of the irony that his writing doesn’t escape Nihonjinronism by focusing only on negative particularities. It’s still an argument for Japanese exceptionalism.

  144. marxy Says:

    For the record, my undergraduate degree was in “East Asian Studies” focusing on Japanese social science. Marketing was more of an misdirection from my (once) anthropological interest in consumer behavior.

    worked directly with artist management companies

    You never talk about the deteriation of relations with said company once you publicly criticized their artist.

  145. Momus Says:

    I said in a Cookie Scene interview that Kahimi was more of an actress than a musician, which to me isn’t a denigration, but to her management company apparently was. But you’ll notice that she no longer works with Katerine, Burgalat, Arto Lindsay, Stereo Total or any of her other 90s collaborators. I don’t think that, this gaffe aside, she’d still be demanding material from me. Seven years of collaborations is a pretty good run (1994-2001). And it’s worth pointing out that the material I wrote with her consistently scored the highest fan votes on the I Love Karie site (before it disappeared), and that the sales she’s achieved since 2001 have been only a tiny fraction of the sales we achieved together in the 90s.

    There, I talk about it!

  146. Slim Says:

    In the end I have a feeling that the issue shouldn’t be the legitemacy of an outsider criticizing or praising a culture/country or not: but that the issue to be considered is one of whether said outsiders are capable of simply understanding said culture or not.

    I too spent most of my 20s (the 1990s) in Tokyo, was (admitedly much less successfully) involved in the music scene, tried my hand at marketing and import business (and learned first hand that marxy’s comments on japanese consumers needing new products to be legitimized from the top to be true), published a japanese language music magazine (which contained a story on Momus, oddly enoug), I was/am fairly fluent in japanese, married into the scene and therefore have experiences many here might not have (with the older relatives, the school system, the health care system, whatever). All that jazz.

    Anyhow, thanks to that experience, and my susequent continued relationship with Japan, I’m quite convinced that no amount of education, nor experience in country as an adult, can make up for not being raised on the inside of a culture when it comes to understanding WHY things work the way they do and why the locals hold the views they do and take the approach they do. Sure, the longer our experience, the more we figure out how WE feel about it all, but to attempt to take that subjectiveness and claim some level of objectiveness or universality is…well…wrong.

    So though Marxy’s work is more intellectual and certainly more entertaining and stimulating, it often becomes nearly as annoying as someone like Debito in its insistence of pointing out “faults” that simply do not bother the majority of the locals and are therefore should not be considered the big deal he wants to make them out to be.

  147. marxy Says:

    can make up for not being raised on the inside of a culture when it comes to understanding WHY things work the way they do

    I am not sure that everyone always perfectly understands their own behavior. This is not to say that I know more than someone Japanese about everything – I certainly do not – but would the Canandian doctoral candidate in 20th century history know more about Pearl Harbor than Kahimi Karie does?

    And it’s worth pointing out that the material I wrote with her consistently scored the highest fan votes on the I Love Karie site

    Your stuff is much more interesting than her dream-prog-jazz she has been doing lately and I am glad to see that everyone agrees. Oops: I love the 90s.

  148. Momus Says:

    I’m interested in the Debito comparison Slim makes. Paleo-Marxists have a motto: “We grind our axes into praxis.” I often wonder what practical steps people commenting on Japan are taking? Here’s a sketch of the praxis of some:

    Alex Kerr: name, blame and shame seems to be Kerr’s chosen course of action. He describes contemporary Japan as a concrete eyesore. But Kerr loves trad Japan, and another part of his praxis is to open and maintain a traditional Japanese house on the island of Shikoku.

    Debito: Debito is a gaijin activist. He campaigns for the rights of foreigners to be treated exactly like Japanese in universities and bath-houses. His preferred method: sueing in court.

    William Pesek Jnr: Advocates “shareholder activism” from his Bloomberg column, and the opening up of Japan to foreign capital and foreign business models.

    Robert Duckworth: a muted and sometimes slurred voice, but someone who does write about and endorse Japanese citizen activism on his GlitschslapTKO blog.

    Jean Snow: his unfailingly positive design and lifestyle blogging has brought him to a central place amongst Tokyo’s media content creators, both foreign and Japanese. He’s set up a regular Pecha Kucha event at Pause Cafe.

    Momus: emphasizing what he sees as the best elements of Japanese culture, Momus propagates a positive image of the nation in his Wired column, blog, records, etc. Praxis: “Let’s Japanize! (But selectively.)” (Japanese people are known to be very interested in positive gaijin accounts of their society; this can change Japan.)

    Marxy: we know the axes, but what is the praxis?

  149. Chris_B Says:

    damn. once again standing outside the party in the rain lookin at all the smart fellas inside having fun.

    seriously folks lets have a round of applause for all the shmoes who ended up here and made a life for themselves, even if it is being a salaryman or working stiff and doing chonaikai stuff. Three cheers for the resteraunt cooks, embalmers, lawyers, salesmen, tech flunkies, newsmen, dance teachers and everyone else just going about their business here, raising families, paying taxes, all the normal stuff.

  150. Chuckles Says:

    Okay, Okay, I’ll make it 150. Sheesh!
    I got a copy of The Long Tail and started reading it. Then I realized I was playing into the whole Long Tail thing by reading The Long Tail. So I put it down and picked up a copy of The Richest Man in Babylon.

    […young Japanese consumers need their cultural items to have a legitimacy that can only be bestowed from above…]

    So this is my problem with this. How exactly does the Japanese Hip Hop thing of the 90s represent a legitimacy from above? Did the Japanese jazz; budding 40s, 50s and onwards represent legitimacy from above? Is Yon-sama (okay, not quite in the Japanese youth demographic, but still…) legitimacy from above?

  151. Momus Says:

    Hip hop is a Marxy Achilles heel — he also argues that because Zest Records in Shibuya closed down, the Japanese music scene is shutting out international influence… apparently ruling out the hip hop record store across the street (always much busier than Zest was) as “international”. Let alone the huge permeation of reggae in Japan… But nope, if it’s not geeky Japanese listening to el Records artists, it’s just not international.

    Also — and I’m guessing here — he’s probably going to say that whatever you cite as not-top-down is marginal, and he’s talking about the mainstream.

  152. marxy Says:

    Momus’ Achilles heel is identifying non-African Americans as African Americans in order to fit them into this really neat essay topic he has about “The Black Ships.”

    Sorry I confuse “Internationalist” with “international.” Zest was the former.

    Hip hop in Japan. First big hit artist was East End x Yuri, no? There were in a Burning Production-related jimusho. Most people got into them from seeing them on the primetime music shows.

    Regardless, even within small scenes, there are information sources considered to be “the authority.” Things can be top-down even within subcultures.

    (By the way, I have multiple Achilles heels. It’s quite a wonder I can even walk!)

  153. marxy Says:

    Is Yon-sama (okay, not quite in the Japanese youth demographic, but still…) legitimacy from above?

    The whole hanryuu Korean Boom was Dentsu.

  154. Momus Says:

    Do you remember those 1960s ads that showed Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen sleeves, with a copyline “The revolution is on CBS”?

    Conspiracy.

  155. marxy Says:

    Was CBS America’s sole record label?

  156. Chuckles Says:

    […whatever you cite as not-top-down is marginal…]

    Thats the thing with this blog’s entire thesis on this particular issue – all contrary examples can be explained away. But in his recent response, Marxy doesnt show that people got into Yon-sama because it was Dentsu, or that they got into hiphop because of the topdown agents involved in marketing it. To the extent that Marxy can show that Japanese kids in fact got into these cultures because of such topdown agency, we have to query the relevance of his assertions – since such dynamics do not differ markedly from what obtains in other countries. African Americans continue to complain about the fact that much of Hip Hop today just isnt Hip Hop in the USA – and hardcore HipHopistas are rarely found touting what is marketed on MTV or VH1: Yet, it is precisely what is marketed on MTV etc that has come to define the cultural image of HipHop in the USA. In the same way, what Japanese partake of in HipHop is a product of the same kind of topdown agency. That there are markets around the world, where cultural consumption occurs contrary to topdown agency seems counterintuitive to me: To the extent that such consumption occurs, such consumption would be marginal in the same sense that Marxy would refer to it as being marginal in Japan.
    I also query if such marginalization of anything not coming out of the TV box would apply to the Internet as a locus of Long Tail dynamics.

  157. Chris_B Says:

    Chuckles, momus, marxy: of course its doubtful that the original swell of hiphop or reggae here was top down. Hip hop I cant say but I do know that there was a Japanese interest in reggae from the late 70s. Anyways I’d say based on observation that nowadays both are heavily guided if not controlled by top down, hiphop much more so. Hiphop has been much more heavily localized than reggae but in both cases sales charts match what the magazines reccomend almost exactly. Not sure if thats a chicken/egg thing but its quite visible. Oddly enough with reggae theres still very much a sales bias against domestic product towards JA product even though domestic performers get more press.

  158. Momus Says:

    Sorry I confuse “Internationalist” with “international.” Zest was the former.

    Now where is Der when we need him to explain stuff like this?

  159. nate Says:

    If, as is clearly the case with hiphop and reggae, and probably the case with kanryuu, the media seized on a nascent trend and developed and exploited it, what’s remarkable?
    Couldn’t the same be said of hiphop, reggae or anime in America, or Europe? Isn’t the discover, sanitize, mass-market MO the standard for the music industry since dinosaurs rocked the earth?

    I don’t like being on the “why is this unique to Japan” track of questions, and I don’t think your critiques of japan need be exclusively Japanese problems, but this is one you’ve used as a pont of contrast over and over.

  160. Chris_B Says:

    nate: good point, its not unique to Japan, but here it seems to be much more prevalant across all genres than in the US, that much is interesting. Again with reggae, Japan has two mags which cover the scene, both have pretty much the same reviews and charts which align about the same. The US has no monthly publications devoted only to reggae, nor do the UK, DE & FR the other main western markets for the genre. Without something similar to compare to, I cant say how unique the pheomenon is, but I merely observe that even for a relatively low sales volume music genre, there is some evidence of top down guidance of sales.

  161. nate Says:

    Rather than some vast conspiracy, or some inherent will in the Japanese people, it seems to me to reflect a more fleetfooted brand of capitalism that can get its fingers around trends while they are still immature, or better yet… the market is better prepared to come to grips with the skinny end of the long tail.
    One of the few things that most everyone around here seems to agree on is the lack of necessity of “street cred” for entrance to the Japanese pantheon of cool. If that were the case in any other micro-market, why wouldn’t they desire and patronize a publication that attempts to cater to their tastes?

    Another interesting problem about the repetition of the words “top-down” around here is that Marxy, Martin Webb, and Momus are all de facto “the top”. Do they tend to think of their words as empty self-interested propaganda? As magazine (and newspaper) writers they are tastemakers to one extent or another. Do they betray every cool thing they find, and manipulate the market unjustly?

  162. Momus Says:

    But see I don’t even accept this metaphor (because that’s all it is) of “the top”. Sure, I could be considered as a minor sort of “tastemaker” (as a producer of records in Japan or someone with a Japan-syndicated column), but that “minor” gives it away: there are thousands and thousands of minor tastemakers, and they’re all saying different things. Which one to listen to? That’s the consumer’s choice. Also, in my experience, they only “listen” to what you say when they already agree with it. I’ve had flops galore. Some Kahimi Karie records I wrote, for instance, sold ten times more than others. If I were the “top” and everything worked “top down”, I would never have flops.

  163. Chris_B Says:

    momus: of course you cant admit your position. To a certain class of sheep, you are a sheppard. Since your sheep are almost entirely english readers, your flock depends on your street cred in order to follow you to greener pastures. If you admit to them that what you do is paid work, you loose some street cred and thus its the old catch 22 of public personae. Also would you be kind enough to point me to the thousands and thousands of minor tastemakers here? I cant seem to find more than a couple dozen at best.

    nate: Pehaps you are correct that is indeed fast acting capitalism. The model is mature enough than any fledgeling genre can be used as inputs. If the model is good enough, there doesnt need to be much P&L study before adopting it, the higher risk micro markets can be tested and quickly dropped if they dont show sufficient return. I’d be willing to bet that the physical costs of producing a new genre specific magazine are higher than the staffing costs and the advertorial income probably offsets most of the physical costs. If that is true then the labor costs of employing tastemakers is probably very minor which in turn makes them as much a commodity from the business standpoint as the product to be pushed. Its entirely possible that the tastemakes are of lower value to the business.

  164. Momus Says:

    Also would you be kind enough to point me to the thousands and thousands of minor tastemakers here? I cant seem to find more than a couple dozen at best.

    My point is that there are thousands. Every article in every magazine, every casual endorsement by a musician or other artist, every recommendation from a friend, every cool kid you glimpse on the street can change your taste. Nigo tries to get you into Bling, Kahimi Karie has a LOHAS blog. They’re contradicting each other. Which do you go with? It’s your call. Everyone curates their own collection of tastemakers according to the tastes they want to have made. We trust those who lead us in the direction we already want to go in. We make the tastemakers as much as they make us.

  165. nate Says:

    momus, fine if you reject the top down hypothesis, but if you’re not a tastemaker, I’ll eat my hat, and you have no business with a record label, one of the world’s most-read blogs (frequently reccomending music and fashion), and frequent gigs adding words to design and style magazines and such.
    If there are a million billion tastemakers, it’s precisely your elite status that makes you part of the metaphorical top. The last time I mentioned cultural capital in your presence, I got a french name and a wineglass full of smug thrown in my face, but there’s a reason that people will pay you to write about green tea in vending machines, and (wisely) not me.

  166. Momus Says:

    The last time I mentioned cultural capital in your presence, I got a french name and a wineglass full of smug thrown in my face

    I probably just mentioned Pierre Bourdieu, since he invented the term “cultural capital” and I was assuming you were referring to his ideas by using his phrase. Not an unreasonable assumption, surely?

    I think we risk getting into glass-half-empty, glass-half-full territory on this question of what’s up and what’s down, culturally speaking. Certainly some cultural commentators are more equal than others, but those with power only have it if anyone agrees with them. For instance, I blog today about contemporary dance, a subject I know very few people give a damn about. I’ll be very surprised if it gets even 25 comments. Other entries this week have got over 150 comments, but mostly because so many people disagreed with me that America is scary because hardly anyone there believes in evolution and that we should vest our hope in China instead. If Marxy and I are at “the top” as bloggers, there are constant rebellions and uprisings when people tell us — as they have every right to — that we’re full of shit. Perhaps we could use a Snakes and Ladders analogy instead.

  167. nate Says:

    yer right. I’m just grumpy in bed at home with a sore throat. feel like being contrary.

  168. Chris_B Says:

    This has got me thinking, most musicians work cheap or darn near free and if tastemakers are comodity labor too, why not just ousource most of that work as well?

    I for one am gonna write up a business plan along these lines and see about rounding up some investors. Heck if I do it right, the job of writing the magazine articles might even be able to be completely automated. Must remember to ask Wilco or Tata to give me a quote on some custom software for that.

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  170. Momus Says:

    Heck if I do it right, the job of writing the magazine articles might even be able to be completely automated.

    By a remarkable co-incidence, that is exactly the subject of my next Wired column! Or perhaps it’s just in the air, because Thomson Financial recently switched over to robo-journalism.

  171. marxy Says:

    Plug.

  172. Momus Says:

    No, I just don’t want Chris thinking I stole his idea!

  173. Chris_B Says:

    Its hardly a new or even good idea, this is just another application of it.