For a long time, the Mainichi Daily News website had a popular feature called WaiWai that translated salacious articles from Japanese tabloids into English. Not all Japanese tabloids are made the same, of course, but the WaiWai editors gleefully placed them all under the overarching word “weeklies” as to equate the deep investigative journalism on politics and entertainment in Shukan Bunshun with the pure fictionalized sensationalist garbage of Jitsuwa Knuckles. WaiWai could then scour the deepest and darkest corners of newsstands for the most ridiculous stories and act like this junk was a legitimate part of the mainstream Japanese media environment and worthy of reportage.
Thanks in part to the screed of this roustabout1, the Japanese “blogosphere” realized for the first time a few months ago that a top newspaper’s website was offering the world stories on Japanese mothers fellating their sons to bolster academic acumen and a Roppongi restaurant letting customers sodomize animals before eating them. Thus rose a great populist wrath, and Mainichi has since been on a pathetic slapstick comedy mission to issue as many apologies as humanly possible. WaiWai is now six feet under, and head editor Ryann Connell is locked up in virtual house arrest.
When the debacle erupted, I generally forgot about my earlier criticism against WaiWai and assumed the blow-up was another 2-Channel witch hunt. Today anonymous masses would scream against Mainichi, tomorrow they would scream against McDonalds giving out too many ketchup packets. But this very non-judgmental Global Voices Online article reminded me of the true WaiWai depths: why in the world would Mainichi Daily News happily publish a clearly-untrue article about Japanese flying to Ecuador to murder children as sport? Hard not to feel sympathetic to Japanese individuals living in Ecuador worried about the impact of such a story floating around the internet removed from its original palpably-dubious context.
For me and a lot of my peers, the WaiWai controversy could be boiled down to a lapse in journalistic ethics: an intentional obscuring of diversity in shukanshi accuracy, a cynical scrounge for sex-driven stories in order to boost web traffic, “creative” translation that distorted the nuance of the original articles. There has been a loud counter-criticism from the foreign community that “WaiWai was just bringing Japanese journalism to light,” and I agree that a lot of WaiWai’s heavy misogyny simply reflects Japanese shukanshi‘s chronic objectification of women. But the Mainichi feature was never some kind of detached, sociological “objective look” at Japanese tabloid journalism: WaiWai exploited and amplified the original prurience for commercial gain.
I find the death threats and calls to “drop a nuclear bomb on Australia” reprehensible and overblown, but they do reveal that this is not a simple case of demarche against impoverished “journalistic ethics.” The passionate anti-Mainichi mobs believe that Ryann Connell and his crew are “racist” and the foreign staff of WaiWai intentionally chose and worded translations in order to embarrass and debase the Japanese people. Forget cynical profit motives, this is another volley in the age old war between peoples of different racial descent.
Indeed, most of the anti-WaiWai screeds have possessed a noticeable amount of “nationalist” sentiment. This blogger Tonchamon has been identified as a “key leader” of the anti-WaiWai movement, and judging by the Korea was Created by Japan and China’s Despotism Shakes the World tomes recommended at the left, I am guessing he is extremely invested protecting the image of Japan in relation to other foreign countries (especially Japan’s hostile and “ungrateful” Asian neighbors). There are surely non-nationalist Japanese with bones to pick with WaiWai, but the “damage to motherland” angle has become central to the entire affair. This wiki on the debacle features a parody Mainichi Shimbun ad stating: “We no longer need a newspaper that scorns our country.” (母国を侮蔑する新聞はもういらない。)
In the past we have discussed whether otaku are “right-wing,” and although many strongly suggest that the “net uyoku” are distinct from pure anime-loving nerds, the two sections definitely haunt the same pages and halls of the internet. There does not seem to be a palpable discomfort with the nationalist sentiments that form most of the counter-attack against WaiWai. This suggests to me that: young computer-involved Japanese are more likely to base their identity on being members of a nation state compared to their peers in the United States. I do not mean nationalism here to necessarily imply militarism or jingoism: simply a deep concern with national identity and national image. And this net nationalism is mostly disconnected from the political process: 2-Ch schadenfreude about Koreans rarely links to a pro-LDP position over DPJ, etc. (Apparently, the Japanese Communist Party and proletarian literature are blossoming with the growing NEET and freeter segments of society.) But in this ideology, the individual’s relation to his nation state is key, and there is thus a need to protect the image of that nation-state in order to protect his/her own identity.
As an American of the liberal persuasion, I am naturally inclined to be suspicious of a personal identity that concerns itself with “defending” the national image. The United States deserves all the (non-violent) hate it gets for invading Iraq, and before that, for supporting countless dictatorships and oppressing democracy in the name of “anti-communism.” (And the list does not stop there…) I cannot imagine ever getting bent out of shape that an American media source “scorned the image of our country.”
But this is essentially a matter of taste as much as politics. Chuck Klosterman perfectly captures this collective taste culture in his book Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto where he recalls a mass email sent to his friends:
Here was the conceit of my email: I gave everyone two potential options for a hypothetical blind date and asked them to pick who they’d prefer. The only thing they knew about the first candidate was that he or she was attractive and successful. The only things they knew about the second candidate was that he or she was attractive, successful, and “extremely patriotic.” No other details were provided or could be ascertained.
Just about everyone immediately responded by selecting the first individual. They viewed patriotism as a downside. I wasn’t too surprised; in fact, I was mostly just amused by how everyone seemed to think extremely patriotic people weren’t just undateable but totally fucking insane. One of them wrote that the quality of “patriotism” was on par with “regularly listening to Cat Stevens” and “loves Robin Williams movies.” Comparisons were made to Ted Nugent and Patrick Henry. And one especially snide fellow sent back a mass message to the entire e-mail group, essentially claiming that any woman who loved America didn’t deserve to date him, not because he hated his country but because patriotic people weren’t smart.
This pretty much sums up my own conscious and unconscious biases against pronounced patriotism. There are plenty of people in the United States who hold a 2-ch-esque unwavering belief in the sanctity of the nation state, but these sentiments are markers for such ideological and cultural divides that they could never exist as the unquestioned basis of a non-political internet grievance like the WaiWai incident. Moreover, the subconscious political position of non-political blogs on the English-language internet is clearly “left-wing” or at least moderate Democratic with a cynical libertarian streak. Any statement of “how dare someone attack America” would invite immediate calls of “troll.”
In Japan, Korea, and China, generic internet users have shown themselves to be very, very concerned with defending their own nation states against outside interests. This does not mean they do not complain against internal organizations within a dialogue of fellow countrymen, but when the frame of the debate is “Nation vs. Nation” or “Nation vs. The World,” the default position mostly appears to be “nationalist.” Japan, however, probably pales in comparison to China and Korea on this count. How many non-sound truck soldier Japanese can you see killing the Korean national bird over the Liancourt Rocks? Net users may not represent the total nation, but we cannot deny that defending Japan’s global image is a passionate issue for the loudest plurality on the internet, with few signs of a countervailing ideology to temper.
Those not wanting to accept this conclusion have to make a choice: either the anti-WaiWai mob is a limited “nationalist” phenomenon rejected by offscreen “liberal” internationally-minded elements in society, or most highly-involved Japanese internet users are perfectly comfortable with nationalist rhetoric. There are voices that the WaiWai debacle started from an-anti Mainichi cabal attempting real estate espionage or right-wing punishment for Mainichi’s printing of the Soka Gakkai newspaper, but legions of regular users do seem to support the efforts to punish the newspaper giant. Anti-WaiWai sentiment does not, of course, prove that Japan is on the path of invading China or taking “Takeshima” by force, but it does point to a divergent development of “internet culture” between this country and the American-dominated global standard. Surely, there are taste cultures in Japan that reject nationalism, but they have not taken the dominant position online.
1 I admit I was wrong about one thing: Ryann Connell is not Irish.