Densha Otoko: Finally Interviewed!

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In the January 2007 issue of Wired there is an article “Love Train” about our favorite “true love story” 「電車男」(Densha Otoko). Writer Brian Ashcraft gets a special interview with the “man” behind the phenomenon. Not in person, of course. Observe:

Some say he’s real, others insist he was cooked up by some clever 2Channel posters. The book’s publisher, Shinchosha, agreed to set up an email interview with Train Man, but acted as an anonymizing go—between.

“I don’t think I could’ve done it without 2Channel,” writes Train Man, who says he’s still dating the pretty girl. So far, his life hasn’t changed much: He works at the same company, visits Akihabara, buys comics, and watches anime. And, of course, he still posts about stuff like videogames on 2Channel. Once an otaku, always an otaku.

An anonymous email interview arranged by the publisher? Why was I ever skeptical of this story at all?! Besides the myriad reasons to doubt the Train Man story offered on the Japanese Wikipedia, I find it most hard to believe that couple are still together and “dating.” He better marry that girl soon. It’s not like a totally fabricated fairy tale happens to you every day.

Also, our man appears to have been totally taken on the licensing contracts: a best-seller, a film, a hit drama, etc., etc. and he still works “at the same job.”

If the Train Man is fake (and c’mon, is there any evidence that he exists other than the word of the stakeholders profiteers?), serious balls on Shinchosha to basically make up responses and send them to an American magazine as authentic.

W. David MARX (Marxy)
December 21, 2006

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

43 Responses

  1. Your Humble Janitor Says:

    Does anyone take Wired seriously any more?

  2. Andreas Says:

    Does it really matter if the Densha Otoko story is real or not? What matters most is how it was perceived: lots of 2ch readers recognized themselves in Train Man and could relate to what he was talking about. It is that what makes Densha Otoko interesting (and a hit) – its relevance won’t “decrease” if the whole story ends up being false.
    BTW, Foucault had some good thoughts about the relevance of the author: http://www.strath.ac.uk/Departments/History/s_adams/foucault.htm
    ;-)

  3. marxy Says:

    Three things:

    1) Does it really matter? If the answer is no, then why does Shinchosha/Fuji/Dentsu/2-ch make a very important point of pretending like he does exist to the extent of making up totally bogus interview answers for reporters. Even if you play the post-modern “author is dead,” you have to admit that the TRUTH angle is important to sell this particularly fantastic FICTION. Otherwise, who cares?

    2) If you watch the TV show, half of the “thrill” is the idea that people are all around the country helping this guy on. I think they would feel seriously let down to think it was all a hoax – at least on a personal level. People don’t generally like being lied to, especially if they are following along and thinking their advice is making a difference.

    3) There is a pattern of information control (情報操作) in Japan that this fits into. TBS just got busted again for suggesting some sort of household tips that cause trouble (look up their bean diet, as well). They also had huge consumer backlash in regards to the scripted Kameda fight (part one, at least). I know I will get nailed as totally insane for this idea, but what if the media doesn’t intentionally lie to us to make us buy things or believe a version of reality that is better for their corporate sponsors? What if it calls fact fact and fiction fiction?

  4. alin Says:

    /// what if the media doesn’t intentionally lie to us to make us buy things or believe a version of reality that is better for their corporate sponsors? What if it calls fact fact and fiction fiction? ///

    i’m afraid that might be impossible . however if you’re determined to crusade against this wouldn’t you think the american media with its already enlightened, truth-seeking public might be a more rewarding and relevant battlefield.

    to rephrase it and to get back to my ritornello, your constant failure to give credit and aknowledge the japanese audience as a subjective entity seriously limits the persuasiveness of your argument.

  5. marxy Says:

    “your constant failure to give credit and aknowledge the japanese audience as a subjective entity seriously limits the persuasiveness of your argument.”

    Yeah, but looking in objectively, the Japanese audience seems to get really pissed off when it figures out it’s being lied to. If they know there is fantasy in the “bean diet,” why do they eat it and get sick? If there is permitted fantasy in the Kameda match, why do they flood TBS with calls? 2-ch came as a drama (not a nonfiction report), so no one is going to get upset that it isn’t real. But that doesn’t mean we reward the publisher for lying to us and keeping up the facade.

    Also, do you think it was Americans/non-Japanese who wrote all the info on the wikipedia page about the story being a fabrication? I am not saying I am the only one in the world to be skeptical – I am just writing about it in English so that no one assumes there is some veracity hiding out there somewhere. Or at least trigger the debate.

  6. dotdash Says:

    I agree with Marxy. From a subjective point of view it’s important whether it’s fake or not. The story sets its stall as being a true story and it’s meant to be viewed by the audience through that lens. If it’s fake, Densha Otoko’s value has to be judged on the basis of a normal fictional drama, which makes it a different animal entirely.

    It’s like Borges’ story comparing Don Quixote with a (fictional) word-for-word identical book written by a 20th Century French writer and concluding that the later version is better. If Densha Otoko is fake, is it really as good a drama and story as if it was real? I think it would be devalued and the show’s producers seem to agree.

  7. alin Says:

    fair enough, i take your point.

    see, when you start serioulsy looking around and hear strong voices both left and right of you yet mentain that certain authoritative, evangelical stand you do sort of put yourself in a vulnerable position.

    ///TBS just got busted again for suggesting some sort of household tips that cause trouble (look up their bean diet, as well). They also had huge consumer backlash in regards to the scripted Kameda fight////

    way off on a tangent but conceptually speaking i think fundamentally what you’re suggesting is more regulations to something that’s already way over-regulated (superficially speaking, you have to go far out of kanto to find some de/un-regulated space physical or mental). i personally find these various ways the system constantly de-regulates itself from within essential for survival and wouldn’t want yet another grand layer of ‘truth’ hovering over the whole thing.

  8. alin Says:

    and what about the bigger scheme where japan itself is sort of the world’s own densha otoko. (the wired piece here, just heard today that Nana will be going to france, the us etc – will be huge with the emos i reckon , the moe global boom etc etc.

  9. Andreas Says:

    1) […] you have to admit that the TRUTH angle is important to sell this particularly fantastic FICTION.

    Of course. But that thruth angle can be perfectly part of the fiction, no? (think of Santa Claus)

    2) […] I think they would feel seriously let down to think it was all a hoax – at least on a personal level.

    Correct too. But in the end, I believe it’s more important to look at how people relate to this particular story, and not whether it’s true or not.

    3) There is a pattern of information control (情報操作) in Japan that this fits into. […] but what if the media doesn’t intentionally lie to us to make us buy things or believe a version of reality that is better for their corporate sponsors […]

    I definitely agree that 情報操作 is a serious problem (and should be uncovered as much as possible), but does Densha Otoko really fit in this category? It’s rather harmless, I think.

  10. Carl Says:

    Densha Otoko is harmless and Western media also lies about stuff. Neither of those things make it right for the producers of DO to lie about it.

  11. check Says:

    I’m a bit perplexed that people don’t view 電車男 as an effective litmus test for determining intellectual character.

    Where one might be predisposed to use particular cultural cues (hip bands, clothes, etc.) to judge quality of character – surely this ranks evenly with said techniques, in allowing an individual to directly assess a corresponding party’s mental wherewithal.

    Yes, it’s fake. So, use it as a tool for social compatibility. The same way you might use 六本木 in conversations with unknown foreigners.

  12. Momus Says:

    I’ve always thought lying, as far as sins go, is vastly over-rated. Much worse is being boring, or failing to engage people. What’s more, in art there really isn’t such a thing as a lie. As Picasso said, it’s “the lie that tells the truth”.

  13. DH Says:

    Maybe, but a difference exists between, say, your ‘unreliable tour guide’ shtick–where the context defuses the lies–and Densha Otoko, which is apparently meant to be taken as true.

  14. marxy Says:

    Santa Claus is a perfect parallel to why Densha Otoko is wrong: they are treating the public like children.

  15. yago Says:

    I think is fair to assume from Momus defence of lying that he himself is quite a liar.

    I think it`s quite sad to need to lie to “engage people”, but anyway. What really bugs me is the comparison of Picasso to Densha otoko. Can you really call Densha otoko “art”?

    Of course it may just be lying to engage us.

  16. Adamu Says:

    This is a lot like the “lonely girl” hubbub that hit YouTube recently. Some phony video blog got popular, people figured out it was a hoax, and the whole thing collapsed and backfired for the people involved. The difference here is the people behind Densha Otoko weren’t such amateurs and had the Japanese media institution at their disposal.

    As someone who was initially intrigued by the Densha Otoko phenomenon I feel a little betrayed myself. It was a fun melodrama to read online especially since it seemed like the type of thing that could only happen on 2ch, that vast frontier of communication. But my anger boiled a little on a recent trip to Malaysia when I finally got to see the drama version. It sucks! I saw the last episode, and the characters spent like 20 minutes saying a tearful good bye to the Densha Otoko as his final thread filled up with responses. If they’re going to lie to us to promote some story, they should at least make it a good one.

    BTW, I have to mention that J-drama are huge in SE Asia. Perhaps it’s because the homegrown TV here has even shittier production values.

  17. Your Humble Janitor Says:

    yago: that momus is a liar is not news to me. he earns his bread and beans by it.

    marxy: isnt it sad that this has to be re-hashed and explained again and even sadder that people need it explained to them?

  18. Mutantfrog Says:

    From what I heard about Lonely Girl, I would say there are two important differences. First, they were doing it ONLY for the publicity, and not making any money off of it. Second, a huge part of the fanbase was playing detective to figure out whether or not it was real, and being subtly encouraged to do so-that was part of the game. (Speaking of which, I saw the movie “The Game” last night-the extreme end result of Densha Otoko or Lonely Girl.)

    Basically, Densha Otoko was a con game, Lonely Girl was a practical joke. Sure, they are part of the same continuum, but that doesn’t make them equivalent.

  19. bb Says:

    Of course it matters whether it really happened or not. A lot of people would be disappointed if they were to find out the truth, so OF COURSE it’s in the publishers’ best interest to keep the story going.

    Better than the lonelygir15 YouTube thing, I see a better parallel with the James Frey scandal that happened a while back in the USA. He wrote a heartbreaking memoir of his shitty, criminal, drugs ‘n’ alcohol-riddled life and his later triumph over his addictions. The book inspired millions of recovering addicts and became a best seller. Oprah even shilled the book on the show. He became a millionaire. Then after some journalists did a little digging into his more outrageous accounts of arrests and jailtime, James Frey was cornered into admitting to embellishing or making up most of the pivotal events and characters of the story–that it wasn’t really a memoir at all. Needless to say, Oprah was PISSED. Some readers still stand by him and value the work as fiction, others think he’s a douche.

    So in the James Frey case, we have a real guy telling a story based loosely on his life, publishers slapping a “memoir” label on it to get more sympathy from readers, and things snowballing out of control. Everyone made money all around by “lying” to the public, but–fiction or memoir–lots of readers were actually inspired to stop boozing.

    Densha Otoko? The guy probably doesn’t exist to begin with. Publishers make a ton of money by getting the public invested in this ficticious character and story. Without the whole 2ch audience participation bit, what else do we have here? A story that inspires people to… believe in fate and stand up to bullies so they can one day win the heart of a girl out of their league? Yeah, without the reality angle, Densha Otoko is totally lame.

  20. alin Says:

    boy, expand the premise a bit else i’m overwhelmed by chris b’s looping sadness.

    a. the ‘creators’ are not the evil manipulators but themselves equally play, enjoy and are victims of the game.

    b. the ‘creators’ include the audience’s real life search for the truth in the marketing plot which then aquires the potential to become far more sinister and interesting.

  21. Jack Says:

    I saw the TV drama here in the US before I knew anything about Densha. It wouldn’t be any better or worse whether it was “true” or not. This is somewhat minor compared to holding a press conference and making allegations which are known to be untrue, and then unilaterally invading a country based on those allegations. As an American I would think your sensitivity to deception (both in media and politics) would be more finely tuned though extensive use and such a thing as this would not leave you winded and breathless.

    I await your next post wherein we learn that Jesus was not born on Dec. 25

  22. der Says:

    I really find it extremely difficult to get into the mindset of the MADs, which allows them to put “thruth” in scare quotes.

    OK, I hold back on words like “totalitarianism”, “WMD”, “trust”, “sociality”, etc., and ask a genuine question: how do you distinguish between good and bad lies? What criteria are left to keep bad (=evil) liars from using the “the ‘creators’ are not the evil manipulators but themselves equally play, enjoy and are victims of the game” defense?

  23. Your Humble Janitor Says:

    alin: I have no idea what you are talking about. really.

    der: thats just the thing to the postmodern moral relativists, there are no lines. that line of pseudo reasoning is based on weapons grade balonium and really does not deserve to be publicly aknowledged. I for one find it unfortunate that such thinking is given any more regard than children’s tantrums.

  24. alin Says:

    //// how do you distinguish between good and bad lies?

    this page pretty much answers it.

    there are certain subtleties about japan that many who look for ‘power’ to critique seem blisfully unaware of.

    an example. cut and paste from the wikipedia coz i’m lazy.

    Miyadai Shinji, the guy is fuckn sharp and critical, however:

    “He is one of the most outspoken sociologists in Japan, and is currently working on the strategy the Japanese government should adopt for the 21st century.”

    there’s a certain inclusiveness at work that it’s totally absurd to separate victims vs power manipulators as two essential groups. you can surely do it to some point but as a critical modus operandi you’re off , unless , here’s my other refrain , you criticize, or nuke the whole damn nation.

  25. alin Says:

    to rephrase what i said in a more critical way. just like with probably the most japanese of concepts “oku” – which can mean closest, innermost (as in 奥さん) and furthest, other (as in 奥の細道) – in so many aspects of society the two extreme meet, cross over. think of any example you want (schoolgirls with middle aged salarimen – definitely not a one way power dynamic). not dialectic but short-circuit, a lot of stuff gets burned or thrown out in the middle, and that’s a serious problem, but my point here is that binary logic is an inadequate critical tool here.

  26. der Says:

    Thanks, alin, that cleared it up. Not. (To revive that piece of 90s language.)

    btw., I’d probably put “thruth” in scare quotes as well. But not “truth”.

  27. Momus Says:

    Is Densha Otoko popular art? Certainly. I thought the film version was terrific, and it made me cry, no lie. The “based on a true story” part of it is essentially part of the marketing campaign, not of the film itself. Marxy, of course, works in marketing, and therefore vastly over-emphasized it. And people bring certain expectations to marketing claims — ie that they are vested and pragmatic. Any claim made as part of a marketing campaign exists merely to pique our interest and sell the product. Even the most naive consumer knows this, so why people who work in marketing wouldn’t is entirely mystifying to me.

    The massive truth of the actual film, though, was in its depiction of a group using a new technology — the internet — to help an individual succeed in the most important task an individual has to: finding a mate and joining society. In this sense, the film was massively true to all our experience, both timely and timeless.

  28. alin Says:

    thanks der, with a bit more help we might be able to raise “thruth” up there with “termial”

  29. der Says:

    Alright, what we now need is a Marxyposé of Densha Otoko, just like this unmasking of the evil lies of Michel Gondry:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TaVsaWjzsds&NR

  30. unload Says:

    >a best-seller, a film, a hit drama, etc., etc. and he still works “at >the same job.”

    Not sure this is the best point– even in the US, a book deal can often be worth a pittance, like $20,000. Judging by the fact that 3 different manga publishers released adaptations, maybe there was no license involved for a lot of the Densha adaptations (wouldn’t one of those publishers try to get an exclusive license?). And even if he made, say, $200,000 off the whole thing– that’s not enough to retire on at age 30, least of all in Japan– it makes sense that he kept his job.

    You’ve probably argued your reasons in this blog, but I’m inclined to think that Densha actually happened, precisely because the details seem too arbitrary to be invented (Densha distracted the drunk, but a business man later held him until the police show, Hermes cups of all things, she’s older than him, etc). Yes, the main problem is that it seems like such male fantasy (it’s never remotely explained why Hermes would be attracted to him), but shit happens in life that’s not rational– women and men fall for each other all the time based on very little or even nothing in common. Who knows?

  31. marxy Says:

    “In this sense, the film was massively true to all our experience, both timely and timeless.”

    So why does Shinchosha still pretend as if the tale is a “true story” instead of a modern day fable?

    I find it hard to ignore the marketing. Can you really ignore the “marketing” as a fundamental part of Avex music, for example? Does Hamasaki Ayumi standup as an artist without the marketing machine? If Densha Otoko does, that’s totally incidental to the motives behind it.

    “As an American I would think your sensitivity to deception (both in media and politics) would be more finely tuned though extensive use and such a thing as this would not leave you winded and breathless..”

    Like many many others, I have been extremely angry about the entire Iraq War/Bush presidency/course of American policy for the last five years. Is there a public debate about these deceptions in the US? Yes, and I am not sure I can really add much specific to that debate that hasn’t already been said.

    I am a pop culture fan, and the fraud of Densha Otoko still does bother me to a certain degree. Is there a public debate about that fraud? No, and sure, it’s not anywhere near as heavy as war and death, but if I am going to write something about Densha Otoko – which I often do on my blog about Japanese pop culture – I am going to mention the fact that it’s probably a fraud.

  32. Julian Says:

    I just thought I’d bring this up. Guys seeking romantic help online?
    This could well be a spinoff of the seduction community. Perhaps that’s where the higher ups got their inspiration.
    It kind of makes it hard to verify whether it’s a true story or not because there are guys out there approaching women and using knowledge they’ve gained online to get in with them.

    I suspect however that the advice given in the movie is what the seduction community would refer to as AFC.

  33. alin Says:

    //I am going to mention the fact that it’s probably a fraud.//

    Hey Marxy, on one hand it’s fair enough, we all have our funny obsessions, like abonimable snowmen and stuff, on the other your one-sided persistance in spite of all the friendly dialogue here (not mine, mine’s not that friendly i guess), the ‘presumed guilty until proven innocent’ way of reasoning etc does bring to mind certain stuff – like the guy looking for weapons of mass destruction etc. can’t help it mate, don’t mean to be nasty but got my own kind of obsessive hypersensitivity to it.

  34. scott Says:

    “the ‘presumed guilty until proven innocent’ way of reasoning etc does bring to mind certain stuff – like the guy looking for weapons of mass destruction etc.”

    Surely Train Man is the WMD in your clever little metaphor, and Marxy is the UN, calling for proof before we invade, errr, buy the novel?

  35. Momus Says:

    “I find it hard to ignore the marketing…”

    So you’re telling us that you think marketing is both very important and ought to be true? The first belief seems to be cynical, the second naive.

  36. dzima Says:

    I think I get where Marxy is coming from: he’s basically shocked at the fact that what in America is essentially an “indie” type of marketing ploy, as seen in films like Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Blair Witch Project, being used by the big entertainment corporations in Japan. But we’re not necessarily as paranoid about it as he is.

  37. Laotree Says:

    To Unload: “precisely because the details seem too arbitrary to be invented… Hermes cups of all things”
    Arbitrated only by product placement fees, friend.

    Not like I’ve conducted a survey or anything, but anyone I’ve talked to casually about Densha Otoko has been either unaware of the “true story” aspect, or had a “yeah…right” attitude of disbelief from the beginning. I, too, was unaware it was being marketed as a true story until I saw it here. Have you met anyone who sincerely believes in the veracity of the story and would be crushed if you were to provide concrete evidence of its fabrication?
    The brilliant part of this is that ostensibly real people interacted with the character on 2ch, so you see the interaction of the fictional world with the “real”. Even if the main character is a team of Dentsu idea men or ghost writers, the story played out in a public venue with the participation of actual humans (Or were they? Ever met anyone in the flesh who claims to have helped Densha?) so there is a shred of “reality” to it after all. That’s the most interesting aspect to me if this is all 作り話; you could think of Densha Otoko as the main character in a text-based dating RPG, with all the otaku “playing” him by giving him romantic advice and living vicariously through his exploits. Can you believe that shit? Is Zork meta enough for your century, Marxy?

  38. alin Says:

    dzima. that’s a spot-on example of what i’m saying in broad terms above. also i think a good case to my earlier point about most things in japan being , or operating rather, as ‘minors’ making marxy’s front-on attacks totally irrelevant to anyone but his peers. (i said it before my issue with marxy is not that he critiques japan but that he does it so self-servingly and inefficiently)

    he draws a line between good and evil at the point he finds convenient. i don’t for example see the logic – other than laziness – by which say pleiboi is evil and cyzo is fab when they’re fundamentally the same just at slightly different points of the politics and girls magazine spectrum with plenty between and beyond them. he’d go bananas over girls in preiboi yet the cyzo girls are serving pretty much the same function (it’s not even like there’s an ounce of extra irony in it either, which is to say that there already is irony, which he doesn’t seem to see, in pleiboi.

  39. alin Says:

    i get guilty conscience cramps when i’m the last person commenting here. if it’s not already evident i want to say that my anti-marxisme comes largely from a sense of respect for the man and his project.

    merry christmas.

  40. anonymous Says:

    On information control (情報操作) – I work in market research and my company recently did a study among senior Japanese business people on their media consumption. I was completely surprised how many of them complained about biased reporting in the Japanese media – not only TV (which obviously was worst) but also the large domestic newspapers. This just to show that some Japanese (i.e. the Japanese elite) is quite aware of how badly Japan performs in this area. Of course, for them this is less of a problem in the first place as they have the awareness and educational background that allows them to go elsewhere (i.e. to foreign media) when they want unbiased news.

  41. Justin Says:

    Not only kinda.. but crazy off subject… I’m somewhat new to the blog and at the moment in waiting for my Marxy decoder ring in the post.

    So, my question.. do you have artist listings for the two MXUT podcasts(in order….)????? I LOVE the first track off of vol. 2. Anyways… Love the blog.

  42. marxy Says:

    Tracklist available here:

    http://www.pliink.com/mt/marxy/archives/2006/02/radio-mxut-vol-1.html

  43. reinbow Says:

    do you reckon this is a fake:

    http://www.amazon.com/Man-No-Talents-Memoirs-Laborer/dp/080144375X