The Fear... of the Internet

The Fear

From most quarters of Japan there emanates a vaguely-defined, yet distinct fear and loathing of the internet. I have been quick to label this a “mass paranoia” — originally believing the fear goes beyond any rational assessment of risk — but as we will see, this is debatable. For the time being, I will just provocatively and sensationally label Japanese internet aversion — The Fear.

Some more pronounced aspects of The Fear:

User Trepidation
• A total and comprehensive refusal of Japanese social network site users to post real pictures of themselves (and often, real names)
• An obsession with ultra-long and complicated mobile-email addresses as a spam prevention measure, despite the fact that its effect may be minimal, especially when weighed against the inconvenience.
• A lack of user generated media — YouTube clips, in particular — featuring Japanese faces and real names. Many performers, despite virtuoso-level skills, wear masks or otherwise obscure faces in their video content.
• The predominance of anonymous sites like 2ch as the main corridors of internet culture.
• Blog writers, who have not established fame through other media, almost never reveal real names, even when the information and service provided is of professional quality and not explicitly personal. (More on this here.)
• The local discomfort towards Google Street Maps — debated on somewhat cultural-essentialist grounds — vastly outweighed the benefits for the louder section of Japanese users, forcing Google to plan a re-shoot of all the streets with a “lower angle camera.”

Corporate Indignation
• Mainstream media have essentially boycotted the internet as a new medium for content distribution. Newspapers do not offer full content online and quickly erase content lest it become searchable archives. Magazines rarely use homepages to do little more than list the table of contents in the print edition, and besides a few rare examples like Toyo Keizai and Cyzo, offer almost no full-text articles. Television stations do not sell nor stream programming online.
• Leading management company Johnny’s Jimusho does not allow the use of its talents’ faces on websites to promote their own projects. When images are used, the company fuzzes or otherwise distorts the pictures. (More here.)
• Mainstream news programming likes to play up internet-related crimes in order to discredit new media. See the Smiley Kikuchi incident and Asahi’s creation of fake blogs to prove the internet wrong. Also, this indignation towards the net seemed to fuel Mainichi’s reaction to the Wai Wai debate.
• Companies refuse to let their employees blog with real names on official corporate blogs, as “head hunters may steal away named writers.”

An early caveat: Companies in Japan do not have a strong track record for voluntary change, nor usually welcome increased competition, which is not as much a cultural trait as a universal behavior for oligopolistic firms. So viewed from that perspective, the Japanese mass media are “afraid” of the net, as they are slaves to their own monopolist thuggery and seniority-based decision-making process. If grumpy grandpas had been pulling the strings in Silicon Valley this whole time, everyone would still be using some early version of DOS. Technological foresight is difficult with bifocals.

For users, however, there seem to be three components of The Fear.

  1. A fear that criminals and con-men will use online information to scam or otherwise harm the user
  2. A fear that co-workers or bosses will find personal details which could be held against the individual within his/her organization
  3. A fear of bashing from anonymous mobs for social transgression (especially being judged as an individual “too aggressively trying to stand out”)

The United States is a good counter-test for #1, as nobody has any manner of self-restraint against broadcasting personal information. Despite a culture of “oversharing,” however, I would like to assume — based on anecdotal evidence, at least — that most net scamming strikes naïve users who walk right into (Nigerian) criminals’ traps — rather than those who are “so conceited” to have put a real picture on Facebook. Cases of Internet victimization, bullying, etc. have gotten lots of press in the U.S., but much as driving is a risky activity that both Americans and Japanese would be loath to give up, Americans collectively have decided to accept these risks in order to enjoy the benefits of greater connectivity.

I can already hear the growing protests to this line of thought, however: stop trying to fit Japan into the American model of internet development. True enough. Americans have controlled the global standard for the world wide web, but Japan may not have the right cultural atmosphere to just dive head first into this brave new world. Google Street View is creepy to most everyone at some level, but for Generation X in the U.S., most fears are assuaged by a general good-will towards Google and a set of common ethical values. Imagine the case of Japan, however, where no one knows “what a Google is” nor has much sympathy for the last twenty years of Silicon Valley countercultural land-piracy. Google Street View would just be pure terror — technological menace from abroad.

But maybe the issue is not the internet at all. Néojaponisme contributor Adam Richards (from Mutant Frog Travelogue) points out to me that the net privacy concerns I call “paranoid” may be merely the offline status quo projected onto the new medium:

The Internet privacy obsession is an extension of pre-existing offline phenomena — mosaics on the news, translucent house windows, personal information protection law (and those stickers they place on official postcards), surgical masks, keitai stickers that block onlookers from reading over your shoulder, book covers on the train, people refusing to give their addresses to swine flu inspectors, the broad copyright protection and state-sponsored enforcement, the claim of “publicity rights” to refuse private citizens from photographing celebrities.

Adam believes that this culture of privacy stems from a (perceived) failure of law enforcement, which makes citizens take up matters in their own hands: “The police seem to only take action against major crimes, so people stop counting on them to help if something small goes wrong — hence people take more preventive measures.”

The unreliable police may be a cause for Fear #1, but Fear #2 tends to go hand-in-hand with Japanese society as a whole. The quasi-military organization of white-collar labor in Japan means that individuals often have to hide personality quirks that do not fit with the ideals and standards of the corporate atmosphere. Any sort of questionable hobby automatically qualifies as “secret double life,” and as much as the individual may want to blog about their weird anime obsession or pop sociological theories, for example, bosses may hold it against them. Obviously, this dilemma is somewhat universal — no one anywhere thinks they can get away with overtly public blogging about porn videos — but I would argue that the bar for internet-related impropriety is much lower in Japan — or at least, employees show much more self-censorship to what is an acceptable level of sharing on the web.

Fear #3 — being lynched by an anonymous mob — also seems to be totally legitimate, in that the internet in Japan so far has been almost exclusively about anonymous mobs making trouble for individuals and industry. This writer has found himself on a 2ch page called “Suspicious Foreigners” (someone wrote about my picture, “He looks like an Arab.”) 2ch has shattered many lives, and seeing that the 2ch mobs basically operate without any sort of constraint or liability, most people are smart not to throw their real names or faces out for bait. The Japanese net is basically a den for the “tyranny of the majority” — and the best part is the “majority” could literally be ten pathetic human beings in soiled sweatsuits operating out of some net café in Miyagi-ken and we would have no idea.

So maybe Japanese national paranoia towards the internet is not paranoia at all, but a slightly-overcautious but basically-accurate level of risk assessment. The problem, however, is that the mass anxiety — justified or not — has crippled the development of the internet, which subjectively-speaking, resembles the English-language net in 1997, in terms of graphic design, corporate participation, and general cultural influence. The only difference is that everyone in Japan knows the internet is supposed to be a big deal, instead of some freak side show for college kids and nerds.

Local internet is ultimately, however, an extrapolation of local culture, and so I almost feel some sympathy for the Momus line, in thinking that an attack on the pace of internet growth in Japan is an attack on Japanese culture as a whole. Telling well-meaning and outspoken anonymous Japanese bloggers — many of whom read and comment on this site — that their anonymity is “crippling” to their cause is basically a very gently extended middle finger. That being said, I am adamant that the internet cannot reach full fruition — moving beyond a mere tool box of e-utilities like email, maps, and coupons — without adhering to its fundamental Western-biased premises: namely, “information wants to be free” and “individuals want to establish public identities.” There is no value in a half-assed internet. The whole crux of the internet is user participation — building a network bigger than the sum of its parts and giving voice to the voiceless. So there is a real limit on how interesting or relevant an internet can be if no one is willing to claim responsibility for their contributions. This is why Facebook destroys Mixi — no one wants to see dog and cat pictures, but people do want to see how their old classmates turned out. Companies can provide the shell, but users have to fill in the content.

A fully-realized internet will be critical for Japan achieving some of its own stated goals: prolonged economic growth, greater democracy, more transparency, greater geographic dispersion of economic activity, and equal access to knowledge. Moreover, understanding the latest stages of global internet culture is now a requirement for product development. Apple, not Sony, could make the iPod because the Cupertino-based company knew that college kids wanted to free the thousands of mp3s collected on their computers. I met a cabinet-level bureaucrat recently, who is apparently in charge of Japan’s net infrastructure, and he basically had no idea that free wi-fi was becoming ubiquitous (or at least common) in American cities. In the 21st century, protecting local idiosyncrasy and tradition requires understanding the global standard and knowing how to negotiate it. Everyone in Japan can collectively decide to hate the web and continue to use dog pictures in place of profile portraits. But the country will not be a competitive economic enterprise if its citizens treat think the internet is a Godzilla-like menace that wrecks some infrastructure and then disappears after a while. If there is one thing we have learned about the internet, the genie does not go back in the bottle.

W. David MARX
May 19, 2009

W. David Marx (Marxy) — Tokyo-based writer and musician — is the founder and chief editor of Néojaponisme.

104 Responses

  1. lookI'manonymous Says:

    I would venture to say that the scale and viciousness of #3 is a direct result of offline culture of privacy being transferred online. The more heebie-jeebies you get the more damaging the ‘nellers will be.

    I think Japan will “catch up” with the rest of the world when it wants to and feels a need to. It’s not a matter of whether they could or not…

  2. jp_zer0 Says:

    I think I’ve gotten to a point where my online “fake identity” has gotten more meaningful than my real name. It’s no longer anonymity.

    In that sense, it could be meaningless to convince famous Bloggers to reveal themselves.

    Hell, the distinction of real and fake identity has always been superficial anyways.

  3. youngjames Says:

    im still trying to decide if this is snark, or if you just really havent thought this through at all.

    On the oft chance that this actually a serious posting, I think your conclusion that Japanese Society is afraid of the internet because they dont use the internet the way you want them to is, beyond being completely asinine, one of the stupidest things you’ve ever written.

  4. Adamu Says:

    yj: come off it… I mean if that were even close to what he was saying youd have a point. But his complaints basically echo what tons of commentators in Japan are hoping for – in other words, the full benefit of all the productivity that Internet connectivity can bring.

  5. Aceface Says:

    Two things.
    One:
    Mainstream media hates the web simply they can’t find the way to make money out of it,but know it is eating up their pie in the market and there are no business models they can follow.
    The decision makers simply don’t understand the power of internet.And innovative entrepreneur has hard time entering the industry because it’s being cartelized.

    Two:
    The absence of labor market for the white collars over 35.
    To start a blog,you have to have some insight in the topic you are focusing on the blog,meaning you have to have some kind of career in your expertise,meaning you have to be thirty-something to write something with content.(Or so think Japanese.No one admits you are an authority in the field if you are 27.)
    But who wants to spend your time and risk of telling your inner thoughts to the world if
    there’s no motivation that adds something to your career?

  6. slimjim Says:

    I wouldn’t really call the world’s biggest forum (2chn), online shopping megaliths such as Rakuten and Kakaku, domestic corporate sites which dwarf their western counterparts, streaming movie and video services such as Gyao, and facebook-esque sensations such as Mixi, fear exactly. I kind of get where you’re coming from but the internet is simply a reflection of Japanese culture, nothing more.

    I think Japan is the only country in the world where Yahoo is actually in the red!

  7. R. Shaldjian Morrison Says:

    David’s right. It’s high time the Japanese get their shit together. Just look at the Nihongo-ban Wikipedia– it sucks!

  8. Adamu Says:

    “The absence of labor market for the white collars over 35.”

    I felt like the rigidity of Japan’s job market is just too cruel after watching tonight’s Close Up Gendai, where they follow a college student who gave up on a career drawing manga (despite being fucking AWESOME at it) because one of his friends let him know that unless he got a seishain position he’d be doomed to a life of poverty. NHK followed him as he went to his first setsumeikai, cut his hair, and almost broke down crying when talking about how he needs to be realistic. It felt as if he had made the decision to join the French Foreign Legion rather than starve to death. Then this insane manga artist in a golf cap shook his head and told these kids to start cracking the books and research the details of the companies and industries they plan on applying to.

    And more or less, that friend was right! Sure, the hyper competitive nature of manga might make him a bad example, but just think of how many people in this country must be giving up on pursuing the career they want in favor of life as a corporate drone in pursuit of stability. And once in that system you’re just about stuck for the next 30 years.

    This sounds like a tangent but I completely agree with Ace that this keeps talent away from the Web. The Josh Marshalls and Danny Choos of this world are entrepreneurs and to the extent that startup businesses seem too risky in Japan that’s a factor against a thriving Web. BTW, I hear that bankruptcy protection in Japan is kind of harsh to people who set out on their own, but I’ll have to double check that.

    (Incidentally, the fact that I can’t share this segment with people totally proves Marxy’s point about corporate Internet FEAR)

  9. W. David MARX Says:

    Just look at the Nihongo-ban Wikipedia– it sucks!

    I can’t tell whether you are being sarcastic, but it’s proportionally less robust than that of other languages, as I have demonstrated through the power of mathematics.

  10. Connor Says:

    @ slimjim

    I think what you’re ignoring here is that nobody has had an actual original idea regarding the internet in Japan.

    2ch is basically just a huge griefer BBS that didn’t even launch until 1999. Rakuten is an eBay clone, and Mixi is a shittier Facebook. All of these companies essentially “made it” by performing a sort of arbitrage wherein they exploit the fact that it’s easier as a Japanese to copy an existing California business plan and localize it than it is to localize and launch a California business plan if you’re an American in America. (This might be “was easier;” the jury’s still out.)

    Also, Yahoo is in the black in Japan because it isn’t Yahoo. Yahoo Japan is an independent corporate entity owned by Son-sama at Softbank, and they make hella bread as an ISP (there was even idle chatter for a little while that YHJP would pull a 7-11 and buy its parent). YHJP’s profitability has very little to do with ground-level Japanese internet usage patterns.

    @ marxy

    I totally agree with the problem diagnosis but I’m not entirely on board with the causal analysis. I still think the most salient factor here is the lack of computer-literacy, and not necessarily the cultural anonymity/shame factor. Let’s put it this way; we’ve established at this point that Yankii don’t follow established norms and conventions with regard to privacy or anything else. We’ve also established that relatively speaking, there are shitload of them and that they are the most active participants in mass culture in 2008. If they knew how to use computers, do you think they’d give a shit about 2ch flamers? My guess is “no.” Given their propensity to pop up in magazines and mass-market themselves, I’d say they’d be orchestrating mass Street View photo sessions if they could only figure out when the truck was coming by (or what Google is, etc). Maybe this is too simplistic?

  11. Connor Says:

    ^^ Should read “2009;” obviously I have forgotten what year it is

  12. moritheil Says:

    As jp_zer0 said, sometimes it’s about branding, and not anonymity.

    I am really not comfortable with the idea that Western modes of dealing with social media are “more advanced” and Japan needs to “catch up.” Isn’t it fine if they determine how they want to use available products? The blurring of bystander faces in Japanese news should indicate that there is more of a concern with privacy in the culture overall.

  13. Peter Says:

    youngjames, I’d be interested to hear what you think on this subject. I read the post as a serious one, and agreed with more than a few of Marxy’s assessments.

    I myself have wondered why many Japanese who use mixi do not use their real names or photos, and I’ve heard much speculation from Japanese and non-Japanese as to the possibilities. Truth is that we don’t really know, but it does seem to come from an apprehension, not of the internet per se, but of precisely the element of Facebook that its users find much utility in: life-convergence. The story I keep hearing from Japanese I know is that private is private, public is public and comfort is found in preventing the twain from meeting. I agree with Marxy that this apprehension is perhaps just a form of risk aversion.

    I’m not convinced, though, that this is what’s hindering the robustness of the Japanese-developed webspace. There are probably many Hayekian clusters of user-developers out there, improving on all the stuff that we think may suck in the Japanese web right now.

  14. Erica Friedman Says:

    I don’t see this as a fear of the Internet, but as a very logical progression from the common Japanese cultural assumption of tatemono/honmono. There is that person which is your “public” persona, who *must* be according to societal expectations, father/mother, husband/wife good provider/good homemaker.

    Then there is your true self, your true interests, friends, circles of acquaintances, lovers, etc. You will invariably use an alias for these things – and for any public endeavor such as writer, artist, etc.

    The focus is on the group you belong to and the accomplishments of the group, for your to stand out as a individual causes discomfort to the rest of the group. making other people feel uncomfortable is really not done.

    So, blog, draw doujinshi, make YT videos, it doesn’t matter. You will use an alias which will be your public persona. Then you can relax in knowing that your honmono is safe and others who know you can remain undisturbed by your interest. The status quo is preserved and all is well for society.

    In the West, we demand you be accountable for your words by standing up for them with your real self. Only your personal integrity matters and this is shown by using your real name. In a society when the integrity of society is the most important part of your integrity this fails to be important.

    Cheers,

    Erica

  15. Connor Says:

    @ Erica

    I respect the whole tatemae/honne explanation for this but it doesn’t go a long way towards telling us why you can’t stream Fuji TV over the web. If you don’t think that that phenomenon and the 2chan anonymity thing are related, that’s cool, but it’s tough to apply a tatemae/honne dynamic to a situation where a corporation is actually trying to limit distribution/consumption of its own product.

    Other point- I don’t know if my earlier comment has escaped moderation yet but my genuine belief is that Yankii kids generally don’t prescribe to the same social norms w/r/t privacy that we have grown accustomed to ascribing to “the Japanese” and if we lump all Japanese people together regardless of class, education, etc then we compromise our analysis.

  16. Connor Says:

    @ Peter

    I do not believe that there are any Hayekian clusters of Japanese user-developers tinkering away on anything right now, nor do I think there have there been any in the last 25 years. I think the development of those clusters in the US, Eastern Europe, India, and China is not some sort of global default but rather a particular response to market/educational conditions (but NOT social or cultural ones). You’d have to look really, really hard in Japan to find anything comparable.

  17. W. David MARX Says:

    You will invariably use an alias for these things – and for any public endeavor such as writer, artist, etc.

    I understand this principle, but Japanese society still requires legitimacy and liability in order to present usable and trustworthy information.

    The most important thing is not that the Japanese net develops in the same way as the American net, only that the Japanese net becomes a legitimate medium for information. That has not happened.

    Private and Public intersection

    Remember Ghostbusters: they were scared of crossing the streams, but that’s the only way they could defeat the enemy at the end…

    I guess I ultimately think there is a deep sense of fear within the obsession of protecting private — it’s not a simple preference (I like protecting private), but a serious anxiety (I must protect private or else…).

  18. W. David MARX Says:

    Aceface’s statement is interesting:

    1. Mainstream media hates the web simply they can’t find the way to make money out of it

    2. But who wants to spend your time and risk of telling your inner thoughts to the world if there’s no motivation that adds something to your career?

    I think it’s fair to say that the internet requires not only commercial development but a sense of altruism. Most bloggers blog because they want to offer opinion or information — whether that is out of arrogance, charity, or a mix of both. For most people on the net, the money or career-boost came later or delayed.

    Are you suggesting that without a financial motive, nothing serious can happen on the web in Japanese — even for users? Isn’t America supposed to be the greedy society?

  19. R. Shaldjian Morrison Says:

    I was being most serious. Nihongo-ban Wikipedia is really bad, in terms of: a) # of articles (2,885,638 articles in English vs. nowhere near that in Japanese), b) quality of articles (essential info usually missing, lots of unnecessary detail, poorly organized), and c) few useful links.

    Concl: Though Eng Wikipedia has its many faults, it’s far superior to Jp Wikipedia.

  20. MattAlt Says:

    >>a sense of altruism.

    While there’s no question that they are fewer in number than English-language sites, there are plenty of informative, “altruistic” Japanese sites out there on a wide variety of topics (the more niche, actually, the better.) I think it’s tough to find them unless you are an aficionado.

    You will get no argument from me that many J websites are extraordinarily poorly designed, but I think this is more a mark of the oft-discussed keitai’s influence on web usage here than it is about Japanese culture per se. And don’t even get me started on WiFi. It is embarrassing that a country that portrays itself as a technological wonderland doesn’t offer WiFi hotspots in its airports. I think this is all going to change massively once the current generation of Internet-whelped young’uns takes power.

    Regarding anonymity. My own wife, a published author under her own name, uses a pseudonym on Mixi. I suspect this is less about tatemae/honne than a digital attempt to salvage the uchi/soto relationship: all of her friends know what her nickname is, and she theirs, but all have the option of not letting outsiders know specifically who they are. That actually strikes me as being a lot more prudent than the Facebook post-everything model. Saying that this is an inherent detriment to Internet progress is like saying writing under a pseudonym is an inherent detriment to literary progress.

  21. MattAlt Says:

    >>Nihongo-ban Wikipedia is really bad

    Unless you’re talking about Gundam, of course. In which case our hard-working public servants in the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries are making sure everything is up to date.

  22. W. David MARX Says:

    That actually strikes me as being a lot more prudent than the Facebook post-everything model.

    As far as I know, Facebook is actually a more closed, protective system than Mixi, in that you can only see the pages of your own friends. If you click on someone, you only get that little box and a little picture. With Mixi, strangers can see your page — or at least, that’s how it used to be.

    Despite this, a majority of my Japanese friends on Facebook still do not use real pictures (and sometimes even real names). This is the default behavior.

    And don’t even get me started on WiFi. It is embarrassing that a country that portrays itself as a technological wonderland doesn’t offer WiFi hotspots in its airports.

    Narita has WiFi but you have to pay for it. This is pretty standard across the world though. I am more concerned with the lack of WiFi in the middle of Shibuya (although there is a mysterious hotspot in Harajuku I use sometimes.) Thank god for Apple stores.

    I think it’s tough to find them unless you are an aficionado.

    I find great information on 2ch but it’s all unverifiable and therefore mostly worthless. The whole internet cannot be a reference source if everything is suspiciously anonymous.

  23. Don Says:

    At the risk of sounding dismissive, wouldn’t it be more constructive to post this in Japanese as well? I think we’ve heard most of the points you make here before, so inviting more Japanese perspective (apart from Aceface) on the topic would be much appreciated.

  24. W. David MARX Says:

    Yes, I will see what we can do. We’ve just gotten into a bad habit of not pausing to commission translation.

  25. Young James Says:

    I can’t tell whether you are being sarcastic, but it’s proportionally less robust than that of other languages, as I have demonstrated through the power of mathematics.]

    The criticism and commentary had nothing do with the fact that you used numbers, and everything to do with the fact that numbers didnt necessarily support your assumptions.

  26. W. David MARX Says:

    Your anonymity undermines your authority in opinion.

    You may have not agreed with my larger conclusions, but I did show that Japanese Wikipedia has proportionally less pages than Polish, Dutch, German or Italian.

  27. jp_zer0 Says:

    “Your anonymity undermines your authority in opinion.”

    Authoritative opinions? Ouch, this concept hurts my poor philosopher soul.

  28. Young James Says:

    I think all your points are interesting, but i think you have failed to consider evidence that doesn’t support your (overly-sensational) thesis.

    I`ll start with your corporate indignation section, because its the most rhetorrically empty

    Mainstream media have essentially boycotted the internet as a new medium for content distribution. Newspapers do not offer full content online and quickly erase content lest it become searchable archives. Magazines rarely use homepages to do little more than list the table of contents in the print edition, and besides a few rare examples like Toyo Keizai and Cyzo, offer almost no full-text articles. Television stations do not sell nor stream programming online.

    as Aceface notes, the reason the mainstream media doesnt put their stuff on their internet is because they dont have a way to monetize it and because it would decrease their profits and market share. TV broadcasters and Newspapers have a vested interest (and sunk costs) in their mediums. You seem to think that TV stations and Newspapers are pure content providers, but their business models are based on providing an audience (or a share of an audiece) to advertisers. You seem to want these companies to not only abandon their existing profit model, but actively reduce their market shares and profits. Not only has putting all their information online for free absolutely destroyed the US newspaper industry, it has fueled the rise of newspapers competitiors (political/news blogs, who were able create profits by in effect repackaging the “free” news. Please see for example the incredible success the U.S. newspaper industry has had with putting all their shit on the internet for free. Blogs etc, may offer a better profit model for the internet, but newspapers and TVs compete directly with the internet for market share.

    Why should Jonny’s Jimusho, which in effect, owns the rights to its artists images, make these images available for free when it can sell them? While we might think such measures as draconian, it helps protect company IP and PR (as in preventing stars from leaving the jimusho and competing with the jimusho, as well as preventing Gawker like sites from profiting off and damaging the reputations of Johny’s carefully developed products.)

    The news media always plays up stories related to new-inventions/new media/changes, this is true both historically in Japan and in America. You fail to cite evidence that the media’s treatment of the internet differs from past treatments of other inventions (the Telephone, Credit cards, Debit cards, Internet banking)

    Companies refuse to let their employees blog with real names on official corporate blogs, as “head hunters may steal away named writers.”

    Im going to assume this a personal anecdote since you cite no source, nor evidence that such things are wide spread. I work in PR, I go drinking with other PR people from other companies, Despite the fact that we are in charge of developing official responses/outside communications etc, and often deal directly with the press, our names never appear on anything distributed officialy. Anytime personal commentary is necessary, it is released under the name of an appropriate high level offical. This system helps protect both company reputation and the PR staff members (if something stupid gets said, you dont get fired for it.) equally, if its the company’s official blog why should an individual’s name have to be attached to it? Is the purpose of the blog to promote the company or to create a psuedo-famous celebrity blogger?

  29. W. David MARX Says:

    Real points are always better than indignation, so thanks.

    All the points you make would be umbrella’d under my “caveat” that oligopolistic companies do not innovate on their own. Your points just flesh that out.

    The difference is that in free(r) markets, new companies come in and FORCE the old boys to move into new media by competition. Horie — good guy or villain — was about to do this with TBS. Or at least, he made sounds that he was going to digitize more video content. And things did not work out so well for him. The better model is Xavel/Branding — which shared enough profits with the cartel to get a place at the table.

    So yes, the “Fear” of the internet in the corporate sector is not cultural nor surprising. But I have been surprised by the level of open hostility to what will inevitably be the most important medium of the next decade. There are lots of little places where TV stations could offer auxiliary content on the net — podcasts, for example — but do not. As I have said, there is a very American belief in the internet as a benevolent force, and I don’t think this exists in Japan to any significant degree — for better or worse.

    I work in PR

    PR is a special case and is best as an anonymous voice from the corporation. Creating star bloggers or star employees, which you are dismissing, is actually a smart strategy that parallels fashion magazines’ very critical use of dokusha and senzoku models.

    What you have describe in total is that companies want to control as much as possible — their markets, their consumers, their labor. Yes, they do, but the whole point of the internet is to remedy this imbalance of power.

  30. Daniel Says:

    Free online TV like this? http://www.gyao.jp/

    A friend just pointed that out to me.

  31. W. David MARX Says:

    Are there Fuji or TBS TV dramas on Gyao?

  32. W. David MARX Says:

    I should also mention that the advertising business in Japan is a monopolistic market where the main player makes its profit from buying and controlling media space rather than charging item-by-item for a suite of services. This means their entire profit model is wrecked if the Big Five stations’ ad time is significantly devalued — by competition from cable TV and the internet. This monopolistic company has not been particularly encouraging of their clients to move into web ads nor cable TV ads. And this prevents the web from being a source of money for content creators — thus keeping the risk high and reward low.

  33. Daniel Says:

    Unsure – just heard about it myself. Supposedly there are some variety shows, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was limited. Gyao requires registration and then makes you watch targeted ads, so I guess that’s how they monetize it.

  34. Rory P. Wavekrest Says:

    Ketsuge Burger did it.

  35. Young James Says:

    ut the whole point of the internet is to remedy this imbalance of power

    Really? I thought the internet was simply a system for transmitting/receiving, or rather, distributing information.

    Now the internet may engender new forms of interactions/social and-or economic opportunities, but it is always going to do these things contra the older forms and established methods. The telegraph killed the pony express, while greatly expanding economic potential. So too does the internet, now the internet may allow for more indiviudalized personal interaction, but i am cautious of taking your idealized view that greating personal interaction=greater freedom=greater profits

    Sure you tube allows everyone to upload videos of themselves being themselves, but in the end it is google who profits. In fact, i would say that google is even incentivized to encourage more wildly individualized and publicized behaviors -> “Everyone be yourself and show everyone you being yourself” becomes the order of the day, and the more everyone does the more google profits. The South Park Episode “Canada on Strike” does a good job of highlighting these issues.

    A la, Zizek I would say that your real arguement is Deluezian one, in which a rhizomatic capitalism breaks down more and more traditional social barriers in the name of profit. Your arguement seems to be that the Japanese just arent quite capitalist enough, and their “backwards” traditional insistence on clear demarcations of the public and private and strict protection of the private (what you call “paranoia.” and counter Adam, i would say that this is not a result of the failure of the Police, but rather the success of social policing and enforcement of social norms)

    Now this might lead to a freer and more open society, but id rather youd openly make that claim and be willing to problematize it.

    Lets take the example of google streets and facebook, Surely google streets is a beneficial tool, but along with all the other information quickly amassing on the internet, someone can find out my name, where i live and how to get to my house all without an opt out clause, does this not represent a tremendous loss of privacy? isnt google just commodifiyinh privacy? Doesnt facebook demand that i not only let people judge me by my taste in music and content of my character but by the smoothness and color of my skin?

    Does success in the “new” internet demand that we all become “public” individuals? isnt Facebook just the continued expansion of the benthamite/panoptic society of control? Cant we read Japan’s “paranoia” then as a way of resisting this trend? ? Arent you really arguing that its in Japan’s best interest to be colonized by America’s hyper individualized form of capitalism

    (and with regards to Facebook i think you ask the wrong questions, the question is not why is facebook better than mixi (highly debateable) it should be, if facebook is so much better than mixi, why is mixi such a better product for the a Japanese market place?)

  36. Adamu Says:

    yj: my current comment is awaiting moderation, but I just want to say thanks for adding to the discussion – these are all questions that deserve answers and I for one am happy to debate this.

  37. wmata Says:

    Adamu: Then this insane manga artist in a golf cap shook his head and told these kids to start cracking the books and research the details of the companies and industries they plan on applying to.

    Just as an aside, since I saw that particular program last night as well, my take on the manga-ka’s (why NHK wanted him to comment on life in the corporate world is a bit beyond me) comment is that many college juniors and seniors doing shuukatsu take a shotgun approach to job applications. They simply want to get into a name-brand, large company with relative job security rather than finding and applying to the places that are best suited to their experience and career plans. As a result, they often don’t examine the firms they apply to as closely as they might absent the overall societal pressure to simply “get a stable, well-paying job.”

  38. Adamu Says:

    For the record, I HATE Facebook so much for mercilessly bringing together every last aspect of my life that I would have preferred to keep separate.

  39. Young James Says:

    Adamu-

    I wanted to address the “paranoia” angle more thoroughly, but i get long and have work to do, will try and get it later.

    Wmata -

    You forget that Japanese people dont apply for “jobs” they apply to companies. In a traditional Seishain position you generally have no control over which position you are assigned to and which work you will do upon employment. At my company, new employees learn which section they will work for on the day of the entrance ceremony. You will also likely be transferred (internally) every three years or so, with minimal regard to what style of work you might want to do or be best suited to (and while you can make requests, your superiors are the ones who ultimately determine which work you are best suited to, not you).

    Its not simply an issue of stability, its that as a full time employee you are hired to serve the company as needed, not simply to fulfill a particular singular job-function.

    and as much as it sucks for dudes, its a million times worse for women, if they dont become a full time employee upon graduation, they will likely be shut out of such opportunities for life.

  40. wmata Says:

    Young James, I’m well aware of that. That’s why I mentioned that applicants should research the companies they apply to rather than the particular position they are interested in. This is difficult to do unless one consults with OBs/OGs from one’s school due to the rather closed nature of Japanese corporate employment practices. I myself have worked for a large Japanese manufacturing conglomerate as a 新入社員 and agree that one has little control over what one wants to do — for the first few years. After that, depending on your skills and desires, you absolutely have the chance to focus in a bit more on your preferred field (though you’re still going to have to be a relative generalist). At least at my company, it’s not as one-sided as I fear you make it out to be.

    Small and medium sized companies are another matter, as are so-called “venture” companies, especially those that specialize in IT-related fields. In those cases, you really join a company to fill a particular role, whether immediately or a few years down the road.

  41. Adamu Says:

    Reposting my earlier comment without links to avoid spam filter:

    I think it takes a special kind of desperation to beg dinosaur media companies to get their acts together rather than asking the government to put their asses in jail for bilking the consumer for so long. What the US had that Japan STILL lacks is a space for new entrants to the market to rise up, thrive, and be accepted. We have had some like Son and Mikitani, but they worked for a place in the existing plutocracy and aren’t reflecting any real change to this close system.

    yj: So your answer is, we either accept the business practices of our big media masters or else what? There won’t be any more TV? Without the massive industry exclusiveness there would be MASSIVE amounts of people to take Johnny’s or anyone else’s place.

    Do you really see Johnny’s incentive to exploit its talent and violate the spirit of intellectual property as a self-evident justification for their behavior? It doesn’t just “seem” like bullying of business partners and exploitation of talent, that’s EXACTLY what it is!

    All the widespread enmity toward Johnny’s all these years has been for exactly that, PLUS the complete inability for anyone to do anything about it. A lack of clear law enforcement and the presence of a rent-seeking elite has a deleterious effect on creativity and business, and the people you cite as shrewd businessmen are the most flagrant violators of that principle! Your demands for irrefutable evidence while offering nothing but insults and accusations in place of any real justification of your own is just the kind of legalistic bullshit that Johnny’s can deploy to defeat a police force weakened by an absence of RICO-style anti-racketeering laws. To me this isn’t an essentialist Japanese culture is this or that kind of issue because it’s a danger anywhere in modern society (turn on the radio and listen to the 10 pre-approved Clear Channel payola songs to get an idea of how this cuts both ways).

  42. W. David MARX Says:

    A la, Zizek I would say that your real arguement is Deluezian one, in which a rhizomatic capitalism breaks down more and more traditional social barriers in the name of profit.

    I understand this, but Zizek et al. are also anti-monopoly and the very monopolistic Japanese system is not an adequate socialist alternative to free market capitalism. There is a lot of great left-leaning literature on Japan that casts the Japanese employment system as the ultimate form of labor control. Wasn’t the JCP line that Japan first needed to fight feudalistic tendencies and become capitalist before even attempting some kind of socialist revolution?

    isnt Facebook just the continued expansion of the benthamite/panoptic society of control? Cant we read Japan’s “paranoia” then as a way of resisting this trend? ? Arent

    How is Facebook controlling people? We can’t be seen at all times by everyone — we block out those who are not in our community. We are always seen… only the face we want to show. We do have power to move out of the gaze.

    Japan’s paranoia is in fact based on conditioning from an already panopticon-esque society: they think the internet just expands it into their private lives opposed to remedies it. If at work, since I have no cubicle or office, I am looked at all day, maybe I don’t want people looking at me online. So I take your point, but I don’t think it’s Japan going from pre-internet zero-panopticon to internet-era total panopticon, at all. It’s too much panopticon in pre-internet society is scaring people away from a further breakdown of public/private.

    why is mixi such a better product for the a Japanese market place?

    If I am not mistaken, Mixi was shrinking or massively slowing down at some point, no? Mixi is a basically the same product at Facebook: but Mixi culture is Japanese culture. If Americans had used Mixi, it would just be Facebook. You can use real names and pictures.

    Arent you really arguing that its in Japan’s best interest to be colonized by America’s hyper individualized form of capitalism

    I am arguing that society would benefit from an internet that provides greater access to accurate and reliable information. Any trust-busting benefits would also help consumers. And maybe, more participation on the net means more global communication. The rare viral videos with Japanese faces on YouTube do get a lot of traction…

  43. Young James Says:

    Adama- oh i totally agree with you, but what you’re arguing is that there is a set of political and economic forces that are serving to stifle development of the internet as a marketplace, what marxy is arguing is that japanese people fear and loath the internet and then provides to provide a number of specious arguments to prove that this is not simply a matter of political economy, but rather the end result of a “mass paranoia” that is inherent in Japanese culture.

    Now id be the first to admit that social and cultural factors are in a dialectical relationship with the political economy, but I think saying that surgical masks+book covers+anonymous posting= no facebook = Japan fears and loathes the internet – is an incredibly stupid argument. and yeah thats insulting, but so is reading stupid arguements.

    And while your criticism of me is valid, that im not putting forth a solutions, nor is marxy, who rather than highlighting the specific economic, political and social factors that have “stifled” internet development in Japan or advocating policy changes that would promote further competition in the economic sphere, would rather blame the “Mass anxiety” of the japanese people.

  44. W. David MARX Says:

    Isn’t there a more rhetorically-empty yet polite way of saying “stupid”? I wish I had the anonymity you had to throw politeness out the window.

  45. W. David MARX Says:

    One other point: personally-speaking, I want to be entertained by the Japanese internet in the same way as the English-language internet. I like 2ch Itai News in that it’s as close as you can get to a central culture blog. (I am not, however, so into the China-Korea-bashing that often shows up on its pages.) I don’t see why all the interesting minds in Japan can’t be ON the internet, providing us content, or why all the secret information that everyone in the industry knows but is afraid to put in print can’t show up on the net in a relatively-reliable format. The internet feels like a 24-hour-7-day-a-week party — why can’t Japan host once in a while?

  46. Young James Says:

    Japan’s paranoia is in fact based on conditioning from an already panopticon-esque society….It’s too much panopticon in pre-internet society is scaring people away from a further breakdown of public/private.
    The core of your critique really revolves around Japan”s very different perspective on the role and place of the private vis a vis the public, and the way that technology and social changes have the potential to alter those roles.

    Obviously, Japanese society places a strong emphasis on the importance of the group. This is why japanese people generally wear surgical masks, not to prevent from getting sick, but to prevent spreading your sickness to other people. the idea that your personal issues should not come before the wellbeing and happiness of the group.

    But this isnt a one way street. I think you rightly argue that contemporary Japanese life is already very panoptic and public, but in recognition of that, i would argue that Japanese culture also places a high value on the the privacy of the individual . I watched a story on the news yesterday about a fluff piece about BBQ at a river, during the filming two college students waded into the river and got in deep where the current was strong and were called back to the shore by the news crew, who scolded them on camera. The girls faces were mosiaced out during that part of the news story, which i think reflects a certain understanding that even being out in public doesnt mean that you”ve given up a certain right to privacy, or to not being filmed and broadcast on the afternoon news. A similar thing is at work in newspapers, which rarely name sources, as well as other parts of the social sphere. Rather than simply say that book covers are a symptom of social anxiety, a better reading might be that when everyone uses book covers it actually creates a private space within a public environment – If i were to cover my books on the NY subway, most people would think i was reading porn, it wouldnt be a private experience, but because eveyone covers their books in Japan i can read porn, or romance novels or genre fiction without an ounce of shame, its a social act that helps create privacy in spite of, or in light of even, panoptic social systems.

    I guess im saying i pretty much agree with your response, i just think that those issues should be made clear on the first page, and not buried in the comments.

    Isn’t there a more rhetorically-empty yet polite way of saying “stupid”? I wish I had the anonymity you had to throw politeness out the window.

    but then youd have to give up your high horse that anonymity is one of the things holding back the Japanese internet :p

  47. W. David MARX Says:

    Obviously, Japanese society places a strong emphasis on the importance of the group.

    This always sounds like fingernails on chalkboards to me. If the Japanese love the group so much why do they play pachinko alone instead of founding bowling leagues? There are more sophisticated ways of framing the same concept: but “individual vs. group” makes no sense.

    A similar thing is at work in newspapers, which rarely name sources, as well as other parts of the social sphere.

    Stories also rarely name the writers!!!

    No, but some of this is because Japanese sources are notorious for being super sensitive about going on record of having said anything. I heard a reporter complain about this — even in Communist China, everyone is more open to reporters than in Japan.

  48. Young James Says:

    This always sounds like fingernails on chalkboards to me. If the Japanese love the group so much why do they play pachinko alone instead of founding bowling leagues? There are more sophisticated ways of framing the same concept: but “individual vs. group” makes no sense.

    Alright, i agree thats a lazy framing, but Its along the lines that while americans take sick days in order to get better, my Japanese colleagues take sick days so as not to make other people sick. lets not call it love, lets call it deference.

    also, Bowling leagues are probably organized by your office anway, while pachinko allows you to zone out all on your lonesome.

  49. W. David MARX Says:

    We’re getting off topic, but there’s a hilarious chapter in Mouer and Sugimoto’s “Images of Japanese Society” where they (facetiously yet informatively) build a solid case that Japan is a “highly individualistic society” by cherry-picking social observations.

  50. Aceface Says:

    ”I heard a reporter complain about this — even in Communist China, everyone is more open to reporters than in Japan.”

    That’s bizarre.But then could be true.Chinese don’t trust their own media and wants to talk to foreigners and telling them how they feel about things.

    But Japanese,Even I wouldn’t want any interviews from most foreign reporters knowing what kind of coverage they would do with Japan these days.Why do I have to be part of bad journalism only to have my words being cooked into totally different format anyway?

    I don’t think this has anything to do with openness.Chinese can talk about their pride of their country and open hatred to Japan to western reporters,But how many Japanese can do that?

  51. Aceface Says:

    Marxy sez in #18(Just found out)
    “Are you suggesting that without a financial motive, nothing serious can happen on the web in Japanese — even for users? Isn’t America supposed to be the greedy society?”

    You are mixing up a lot of things.
    Internet is not just the way to access to information but to the various sort of market.However,no one knows what would be the tomorrows online commodity which is why media is throwing in all kinds of information into the net without having any doubt of making profit out of it.They do this because of internet’s potential power of being movers and shakers and fear of being left behind from the trend.Nothing alturistic about this.The bloggers you call “alturists” can only emerge from these corporate droppings like garbage gatherers.In blogosphere,it is very obvious that it was the chicken that laid the eggs first.

    But here in Japan,this fear factor doesn’t exist,which is against the hypothesis shown in this post.Possibly due to the corporate governance style of Japanese incorporation where stock holders are considered as one of many stake holders and not the owner of the company nor executive decision maker.Which means Japanese company is not reacting to the changing environment as quickly as the rest of the world.Which leads to little informations and services on the table compared to web environment in other country.(One exclusion could be porn industry,dominated by small enterpreneurs and Japan has competitive commodities thanks to the loose regulation on sex merchandise.)

    Anyway,the roadside shops would pop up once you have more traffic.And so can be the cyberspace.

  52. xee Says:

    I wish I had the anonymity you had to throw politeness out the window.

    I don’t think it’s fair to equate total radical anonymity, a la 2ch, with the use of a consistent pseudonym that is not your legal name, a la mixi. There’ve been some interesting discussions elsewhere on the internet recently about the difference between anonymity and pseudonymity (as it were), clearly it’s come back as a topic? The eng-lang internet I’m used to has always been more pseudonymous than real-namey, and only in the past couple years or do has it started to feel even fifty-fifty– and that’s probably because I’ve been reading more blogs on social media, marketing etc, which is to say I’ve been reading more stuff written by people whose online activity is part of their work! who want a readership! who can use their hitcounts and trackbacks to boost their profile!

    The sense i therefore have, of the English-language internet, is that the people who use their real names on the internet use the internet for networking, and the people who use fake names (albeit consistently) on the internet use it for fun. So it seems a bit wrong, to me, to treat mixi-style pseudonymity as something to do with a particularly japanese fear of the internet? If it is a fear it is a fear shared by many many non-japanese who use the internet for amusement/entertainment/sounding-off.

  53. Justin Says:

    Obviously, Japanese society places a strong emphasis on the importance of the group. This is why japanese people generally wear surgical masks, not to prevent from getting sick, but to prevent spreading your sickness to other people.

    You should tell that to all the people in Kansai, safely walking about with their Anti-Swine Flu Masks™ strapped on! (Someone really ought to go on TV and inform the populace that paper surgical masks are next to useless for stopping the inhalation of viruses.)

    Re: the Facebook v. Mixi debate… can’t you see a time-stamped list of all users who have looked at your blog entry/picture/page on Mixi? If this was implemented on Facebook or MySpace, would their respective userbases not be apopletic? It certainly rubs me the wrong way…

  54. W. David MARX Says:

    can’t you see a time-stamped list of all users who have looked at your blog entry/picture/page on Mixi?

    Yes, 足あと. This alone would make me paranoid about the entire internet. Maybe the idea is to say, hey, not EVERYONE is looking at you — only these specific people. But in that process, it actually makes it more terrifying, and then you really start worrying about your picture and profile page…

  55. Daniel Says:

    They recently added the option to delete a certain amount of your 足あと everyday. I think 10/day or something. Interesting step.

  56. Young James Says:

    You should tell that to all the people in Kansai, safely walking about with their Anti-Swine Flu Masks™ strapped on! (Someone really ought to go on TV and inform the populace that paper surgical masks are next to useless for stopping the inhalation of viruses.)

    right right, but swine flu is the exception, not the rule, Im sure walking around kansai on an average (non-swine flu) day, there are plenty of people wearing masks.

  57. jasong Says:

    GyaO has struggled to monetize its service. The ads bring in negligible earnings. Parent company Usen recently sold 50% of GyaO to Yahoo Japan that will see it merge with Yahoo douga. They also dumped their half of PPV VoD portal ShowTime over to Rakuten. Nobody who doesn’t offer AV can seem to figure out a way to earn real money from contents, whether paid or free. Still, at least companies with vast film libraries like Toho, Nikkatsu and Kadokawa are starting to do something with them other than release over-priced DVDs.

    Regarding JJ’s fear of the internet, Marxy might argue the “fear” is based purely on economics (internet=opposite of monetization), but more than that I think J is just stone crazy:

    http://bit.ly/xkkp4

    About there not being a lot of Japanese real name/face content on Youtube check out this series of videos by actor Shingo Soejima whose younger sister’s cat Sashimi-san violently attacks him every time he visits the apartment…Furious!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2F9UYsJYbFw&feature=related

  58. W. David MARX Says:

    If you are an actor or celebrity, you are allowed to show your face on YouTube. If you are a normal person, you are not. The world is different for samurai and peasants, I guess.

  59. W. David MARX Says:

    So it seems a bit wrong, to me, to treat mixi-style pseudonymity as something to do with a particularly japanese fear of the internet?

    Mixi-style pseudonymity means that everyone in your circle knows who you are but otherwise you are hidden. This is like a “secret identity.” There are many commenters on this site who use this technique, and I accept them warmly into the community — as Mixi users do — because I know who they are in real life. They therefore have a certain liability in their words.

    Having a common nickname that you only know does not mean establishing liability. And last time I checked, 2ch is purely anonymous – handles are not even part of the process. 2ch was good for once and for all establishing that “all Japanese people are never critical nor mean, by nature” but it’s lousy as a way to make the internet a legitimate and credible source of information.

    Legitimacy matters everywhere, but especially in Japan. As I have said before, Japanese kids don’t have to film themselves doing beer pong tricks, but someone has to treat the net like a serious medium. And the sad thing is that the lack of user participation means that old-school bullies in the Ameblog vein start taking over the territory.

  60. W. David MARX Says:

    Marxy might argue the “fear” is based purely on economics (internet=opposite of monetization), but more than that I think J is just stone crazy:

    How would the normal persecuted sociopathic recluse in their mid-70s react to the net?

  61. jasong Says:

    And don’t forget that many watch dramas/sports/variety bangumi through ワンセグ. The lack of these shows being streamed online is perahps symptomatic of people using keitais in place of computers, as you’ve written about.

  62. W. David MARX Says:

    If only online video could replicate the general crappiness of 1seg.

  63. jasong Says:

    “How would the normal persecuted sociopathic recluse in their mid-70s react to the net?”

    Hah, good question. Maybe they have a スレ on 2ch.

  64. jasong Says:

    “If only online video could replicate the general crappiness of 1seg.”

    You mean the compression?

    Also, most PCs have TV tuners built in now (usually whats on the screens at the denkiya) with Bluray recorders and the whole bit. I’m struggling to see the need for broadband-streamed TV in Japan.

    Completely agree with you about newspaper archives, though. It’s pathetic. Google street view re-shoot also ridiculous.

  65. Adamu Says:

    “Possibly due to the corporate governance style of Japanese incorporation where stock holders are considered as one of many stake holders and not the owner of the company nor executive decision maker.”

    Where you see culture, I see a bunch of politically connected oyaji protecting their territory. Have we forgotten the battles of 2004-2005? Imagine how different things would have been had Horie and Mikitani gotten their hands on media holdings.

    You know what site I want to see succeed? J-Cast, though I don’t know too too much about it except it was started by an AERA retiree. They are at least relatively independent and understand the Internet culture.

  66. Aceface Says:

    “Where you see culture, I see a bunch of politically connected oyaji protecting their territory. Have we forgotten the battles of 2004-2005? Imagine how different things would have been had Horie and Mikitani gotten their hands on media holdings”

    You obviosuly missing something here,Adamu.
    Back in 1996,Son Masayoshi tagged with Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp to take over TV Asahi.Horie and Mikitani simply followed this tradition.
    I can’t really say J-media’s resistance against global media tycoon’s tentacle is a totally bad thing.Also not exactly sure Horie was the right kind of a guy to have access to the power of media.
    But then again,this is my opinion.

  67. Adamu Says:

    So those three guys are bigger villains than Watanabe Tsuneo and company? Given those two choices Japan clearly finds itself between a rock and a hard place. What would be so so welcome is more diversity for the mass audience. Today, FOX is applying for BS channels instead of trying to take away one of the six TV networks that 90% of people have to choose from.

  68. W. David MARX Says:

    Cable TV is a perfect example of a new medium that could have expanded content offerings and created more diversity in programming but instead the cartel completely squashed it. There is basically no advertising on cable TV. You get to see the same car insurance commercials over and over and over again. And then spot ads for the channel’s other programming.

    Don’t let the same thing happen to the internet!

  69. Adamu Says:

    “Don’t let the same thing happen to the internet!”

    Remember that YouTube spread in Japan when someone developed a tool that automatically translated the YT interface into Japanese, months before the company officially debuted with its own J-interface (and WAY before the domestic cartel was prepared for it resulting in all kinds of embarrassment and anger (and eventually that massive deletion of 100s of thousands of copyright-infringing videos). Clearly that’s not something that can happen with cable TV and it’s one way that the Internet becomes an unstoppable force once demand becomes strong enough.

    Speaking of YT, remember that they recently reached a deal with JASRAC to pay regular blanket fees for users to post copyrighted music. Though people have big problems with JASRAC’s status as the arbiter of creative expression in this country it apparently puts YT in line with the current Japanese laws (though under the US regime they could not hope for this treatment… I have not compared, but my guess is JASRAC is getting a much better deal than the ones Google has worked outwith Universal and other individual labels).

  70. Aceface Says:

    “So those three guys are bigger villains than Watanabe Tsuneo and company?”

    Watanabe is not the “owner” of Yomiuri Group.Shouriki Suguru is.Watane is the owner of “Yomiuri Giants” and chief editor of Yomiuri Shimbun.
    Apart from being a political fixer,I actually credit the man for one thing.He chosed Yomiuri to shift to the conservative by purging the leftist in Osaka “Society” department社会部.Which eventually contributed in diversifying news paper’s politics.Before that all big three were all center-left.

  71. Aceface Says:

    “You know what site I want to see succeed? J-Cast, though I don’t know too too much about it except it was started by an AERA retiree. They are at least relatively independent and understand the Internet culture.”

    And J-cast has an interview of media critic thinking Japanese paper would perhaps thrives longer by staying in paper format.
    http://www.j-cast.com/2009/01/06032979.html

  72. Adamu Says:

    Grr, I have been meaning to dig into that series for months…

  73. M-Bone Says:

    I can’t tell where I should begin with a thread like this.

  74. Young James Says:

    You make a couple of other points at the end of your post that i also wanted to addres.

    Moreover, understanding the latest stages of global internet culture is now a requirement for product development. Apple, not Sony, could make the iPod because the Cupertino-based company knew that college kids wanted to free the thousands of mp3s collected on their computers.

    I think your trying too hard to make the Apple as forward thinking (american) company vs Sony as last-gen (japanese) company here, and are really making an apples to oranges comparison.

    You have to remember that Sony is not only a make of appliances, its a record company (one of the big 4), and as a record company, Sony’s profits were predicated on selling CD’s – Digital music distribution represented a major threat to Sony’s business model, hence the record labels countless attempts to cripple digital media (via DRM) as well as media players. Internet music piracy was very much drinking Sony’s milk shake.

    Now apple broke into this market by selling pirates the straw, and being willing to buck the record labels to do so. (Design was also a major element, but its not central.) Apple then used its market share to effectively create the market for digital distribution, and sell access to the straw back to sony.

    But the thing is, Apple being able to do this has I think less to do with them being american (and you can see where American companies like Microsoft (zune)etc have failed completely), and more to do with the fact that Sony couldnt monetarize mp3′s without fucking over Sony music, or in effect drinking its milkshake.

    Now maybe there is an arguement for breaking up corporate conglomerates, or an arguement that Japanese corporate /social policies toward not rocking the boat contributed to this, but again thats not the arguement you’re making here, otherwise you wouldnt bother emphasizing that Apple is based in Cupertino.

  75. W. David MARX Says:

    I get your point, but I think the Sony Music-Sony Electronics clash was actually more of a post-iPod battle. In that, when the iPod came out, it took Sony a LONG time to respond because they had to sort it out.

    My point was less that American companies have more foresight and more that an iPod was an obvious gadget for the American market based on the widespread usage of mp3s. (Japan never a widespread Napster/mp3 revolution, especially in 2001.) Apple very elegantly solved a problem that customers had. Their genius was not in inventing the mp3 player — something they did not do — but making it a better gadget. But they knew to go to market with it because there was a demand.

    There was no demand in Japan for an mp3 player in 2001. Sony would have had to make that demand. There is the difference.

  76. Gag Halfrunt Says:

    Fear #3 — being lynched by an anonymous mob — also seems to be totally legitimate, in that the internet in Japan so far has been almost exclusively about anonymous mobs making trouble for individuals and industry.

    This sounds like the phenomenon of ‘human flesh search engines’ in China.

  77. Zetetical Society Meeting Notes | the Fear of the Internet Says:

    [...] to repost waxy links, but here’s an interesting article on Japanese fear of the Internet: http://neojaponisme.com/2009/05/19/the-fear-of-the-internet/ May 25, 2009 | [...]

  78. chris Says:

    I agree there are huge benefits to sharing so much online — linkedin comes to mind. I’ve made some solid contacts there. But at the same time I think there will be a point of reckoning where the cost-benefit calculation shifts toward more privacy. I am more sensitive to this than average because someone stole my identity and it was a real pain to deal with. But there has to be a reasonable balance between openness and paranoia.

  79. Twitted by msittig Says:

    [...] This post was Twitted by msittig – Real-url.org [...]

  80. Adamu Says:

    Erica:
    “I don’t see this as a fear of the Internet, but as a very logical progression from the common Japanese cultural assumption of tatemono/honmono. ”

    Since this post (and this comment in particular) has been linked to by a major tech blog, I feel I should mention this: I think the phrase you are looking for is tatemae vs. honne. What you said would translate as “buildings vs. the real thing” in other words it doesn’t make sense.

  81. André Says:

    Sorry for the OT but I was reading your website mekas (now on permanent hiatus) and I those articles on the resurgnece of the gyaru trends were really interesting. Reading Japanese teen girls blogs, I notested Popteen is considered the ultimate teen fashion bible even by those girls who don´t actually follow the gal trend.

    But anyway what I think is really interesting is the fact Namie Amuro was the one who kick-started this entire trend back in 1995. And the trend is going back to style at the exact same time Amuro herself comes back as the best-selling female solo artist, surpassing Koda Kumi and Ayumi Hamasaki and with a huge selling best album. Don’t you think Amuro herself has lots to do with this trend coming back?

  82. W. David MARX Says:

    (This is pretty off-topic, but Amuro did not start the gyaru thing as much as take the style to a mainstream audience.

    I think now, though, she is not really behind the growth of gyaru. She has moved to more “urban” styles. A gyaru icon, but gyaru have their own momentum that does not revolve around pop stars.)

  83. Japón : ¿Miedo a internet? ( 日本:インターネットは怖い? ) | Un español en Japón Says:

    [...] a eduo, que nos preguntaba a varios nuestra opinión sobre este interesante artículo me he planteado algo que nunca se me hubiera ocurrido… ¿hasta qué punto en Japón, el país [...]

  84. C-List is now "Night of the Living Spammer/Scammers"? Says:

    [...] contact information is never published anywhere. Interesting, I was just reading about that: N

  85. Anon Says:

    You seem to be espousing a kind of naive techno-utopianism which confuses several things which I would like to suggest are not as related as you seem to think they are (and regarding which I would argue you haven’t done the heavy lifting required to demonstrate otherwise); moreover, I detect, lurking behind this, a bizarre and counterfactual image of the supposed alternative to Japan’s alleged “fear of the internet”.

    First, the confusion. You’re addressing here two distinct things: the economic uses of the internet and the social uses of the internet. These things don’t have such a linear relationship as you seem to think, even where they do relate. Previous commenters have, I think, done a good job of indicating some of the possible non-fear-based explanations for differences in, especially, the economic uses of the internet in Japan. But I’m more interested in the aspects of your argument which obtain to the social uses of the internet, where there are, I think important points to be made which haven’t yet been raised in this thread.

    As a substantive aside, I want to point out the contradiction in your campaign against anonymity, which is, I would suggest, in some ways diametrically opposed to the democratic values you are supposedly championing here, at least as they’ve been developed and expressed elsewhere on the internet. This should be clear even in the terms you invoke in your arguments against anonymity: the appeal to authority (“Your anonymity undermines your authority in opinion.”). Is this authority not always going to be compromised by the tangled web of power relationships and entrenched interests? Isn’t the whole point of (or at least one major argument for) anonymity to allow arguments to stand (or fall) on their own merits rather than succumb to the dead weight of reputation? Yes, piercing the veil of anonymity puts your reputation at stake, but it’s an egregious overreach to suggest that this necessarily provides higher quality information, or even that it comes at no cost, as it rapidly devolves into un-critical acceptance of the veracity or strength of claims on the basis of who is making them rather than the substance of what is being said. Yes, ideally you could have both, but in practice it usually doesn’t work out that way. Neither position is intrinsically superior to the other and each might have its proper place. (The idea that “individuals want to establish public identities” is, I think, a very strange one; your assertion that it is one of the constituent values of the internet–at least the internet you prefer to the one you find in Japan–is a bit outlandish.)

    The main point I want to make though is that lurking behind all the problematic generalizations and essentialist characterizations is perhaps the biggest flaw in your argument: the (extremely problematic) idea that the internet has accomplished the things you think it has elsewhere. I don’t think this is anywhere near so clear as you seem to think it is. (To put it another way, you fail to demonstrate what the Japanese have to gain by overcoming their stubborn refusal to conform to your idea of what’s in their best interests or, perhaps less charitably, to interest you in the way you desire.) In this post, you’re fairly vague about the pre-supposed value of the internet: “prolonged economic growth, greater democracy, more transparency, greater geographic dispersion of economic activity, and equal access to knowledge”. Leaving aside whether these are indeed Japan’s “own stated goals” (really? where did “Japan” proclaim this manifesto?), the internet may (or may not) be a means to these ends, but I very much doubt that it is a necessary condition for any of them, or even an encouragement to bring them about (at best it is a tool which *may* be used to those ends), or even that these things are more emphatically present in those magical lands where the internet has reached “full fruition”. Where exactly are we seeing “greater democracy, more transparency” &c.? Where are the supposed benefits of the internet being experienced such that Japan should heed the shining beacon and cast off its supposed fear? Please do enlighten us.

    [On the fallacy of the economic aspects of your nebulous claims on behalf of the internet, I recommend Doug Henwood's After the New Economy; I would also gently suggest that the financial innovations you see crashing and burning around you, among other political-economic reasons, offer a better explanation for whatever "prolonged economic growth" you perceive(d) elsewhere than the internet.]

    Are there problems with the level of development of the internet in Japan? Yes. Is there a pervasive (media-driven) fear (of many kinds) in Japanese society? Yes. Are these two things related? Maybe in some (limited) ways which don’t substantially supercede more germane economic explanations (and never forget that Japan is almost 60% smaller by population and almost 70% smaller by GDP than the US when making these sorts of comparisons about levels of development, even before taking up the question of whether the internet user here wants what you wish they did). Does the internet actually have the value you assign to it? I doubt it (certainly absent demonstration of the contrary).

  86. W. David MARX Says:

    I am espousing a techno-pragmatism. Nothing I am suggesting is radical nor imaginary. The Net could be used in Japan to boost the economy, create transparency, and help civil society. But as of yet, it has not surpassed the level of sheer utility.

    the economic uses of the internet and the social uses of the internet.

    For contemporary Japan, social verification/legitimatization for anything new must happen within the market, and that normally means large corporate concerns. Their boycotting of economic activity on the net means less legitimacy for the entire medium. It just does not have the image of trustworthiness or authority.

    Isn’t the whole point of (or at least one major argument for) anonymity to allow arguments to stand (or fall) on their own merits rather than succumb to the dead weight of reputation?

    I think net anonymity was incredibly liberating for Japanese citizens in that they could speak their minds on places like 2-ch without fear of retribution. That being said, for the Net to go to the next level, where the Net is a place that possesses its own authority, anonymity is a serious lead foot — at least for Japan. 2-ch contains some great information about taboo subjects, but this information is basically worthless if there is no reliability or definition in the sources.

    Japan’s “own stated goals”

    I think it’s fair to say that Japan wants economic growth. In fact, I can’t think of what it wants other than economic growth. If Japan had a chance, I don’t think it would turn down the chance to have global firms on the caliber of Google.

    Where exactly are we seeing “greater democracy, more transparency”

    In the case of the United States, I think you can make a case for both. At least in terms of activization of more voters and the greater ease of access of government and institutional materials. (Just think of The Smoking Gun as a mini-example.)

    Does the internet actually have the value you assign to it?

    Don’t bite the hand that feeds. Who would have read your statement had we not been debating on a very American-style bog?

  87. Privacy scare after photo of princess posted on the INTERNET | Japan Probe Says:

    [...] that may or may not show a member of the Japanese royal family was posted on Mixi (part of the scary internet). Somehow, this very dull photograph showing a girl in a school uniform smiling has created an [...]

  88. Anon Says:

    The Net could be used in Japan to boost the economy, create transparency, and help civil society. But as of yet, it has not surpassed the level of sheer utility.

    Sure, it *could*–I suppose it could also create lasting peace on earth–but what you argued before is that it is “critical” for the Japanese to overcome their fear and adopt the internet as you envision it, or they won’t be able to achieve these things. I tried to suggest that whatever shortcomings Japan has in these regards has alternative explanations and alternative solutions. These may or may not ultimately involve the internet, if/when they come to pass, but failure to embrace the internet in the manner of the United States is hardly the obstacle between Japan and the promised land that you argued it to be.

    For contemporary Japan, social verification/legitimatization for anything new must happen within the market, and that normally means large corporate concerns. Their boycotting of economic activity on the net means less legitimacy for the entire medium. It just does not have the image of trustworthiness or authority.

    Boycott seems like an awfully strong word here. The media cartels may not be behaving in the way you want, but there’s a fair amount of legitimate business activity online. It seems to me that people have embraced the internet where technologies and services have been provided which fit their lifestyle or which they find congenial. You can argue that there are other services which they would embrace if only they were given access to them, but that doesn’t have as much to do with fear as it does monopolistic interests not behaving as you think they should. On the one hand this problem isn’t unique to Japan (DRM anyone?) and on the other the problem of monetizing media content on the internet is not as trivial as your rhetoric (“information wants to be free”) seems to imply.

    That being said, for the Net to go to the next level, where the Net is a place that possesses its own authority, anonymity is a serious lead foot — at least for Japan. 2-ch contains some great information about taboo subjects, but this information is basically worthless if there is no reliability or definition in the sources.

    Undoubtedly there’s lots of room for improvement here, but I’m just not sure that anonymity is really the bugaboo you think it is. User reviews on Amazon (for example) are functionally anonymous, but I suspect they have a far greater effect on purchasing patterns then you’d like to admit, despite this. Are they worthless? (Perhaps for you they are, but we’re discussing this at the level of social utility, no?) I’m just not sure this claim stands up to analysis, but perhaps you’d care to elaborate on it.

    I think it’s fair to say that Japan wants economic growth. In fact, I can’t think of what it wants other than economic growth. If Japan had a chance, I don’t think it would turn down the chance to have global firms on the caliber of Google.

    Yes, clearly Japan wants economic growth (less clear the other things on your original shopping list). Whether the internet is the magical pixie dust to make it happen is an open question. There’s a lot of interesting economic literature on this, including the Doug Henwood book I suggested in my initial comment, but the equation internet=profit is much closer to marketing hype than economic reality.

    As for Google, I think it’s still too early to make any definite conclusions about it’s economic prowess. It has yet to find a substantial revenue stream outside of advertising and it’s not clear how sustainable a revenue base that will be in the future, as we enter a very different economic climate than the one in which Google first came to prominence. (Furthermore, it’s not clear how we get from “Facebook is better than Mixi” to “Google couldn’t happen in Japan”. The biggest reason why Google didn’t happen in Japan has less to do with fear than Japanese not being the lingua franca of the internet.)

    Regardless, as I said before, I’m more interested in the claims you made for the social uses of the internet, which you elided somewhat in your reply.

    In the case of the United States, I think you can make a case for both. At least in terms of activization of more voters and the greater ease of access of government and institutional materials. (Just think of The Smoking Gun as a mini-example.)

    I don’t think it’s immediately obvious that this is a case of more or greater. In the first instance, where there may be some evidence for your claim, I would suggest that at a minimum this is piggybacking on earlier, hard-fought battles in the pre-internet age for sunshine laws, public records, the Freedom of Information Act, &c. Being able to access these things from the comfort of your own home does not automatically equal more and better, just more convenient–one might even argue that it encourages greater complacency (and is this really even what people actually, in fact, use the internet for?).

    I suppose you could argue that the simple fact of more voters equals greater democracy, but you’d first have to look at historical voting rates, then find a causal link between the internet and any perceived change, rather than simply appeal to a rather suspect bit of popular wisdom which doesn’t really do much to explain why people do and don’t vote. Have other countries with comparable internet usage experienced similar effects? Why or why not? I have a feeling fairly widespread voter dissatisfaction had more to do with any such change than the internet.

    Either way, if you look at the voting rates of young people (presumably those most liable to be affected by the internet) they didn’t change very much. And what happens when the next election takes place and turnout is down or the “wrong” candidate is elected? Is the internet responsible for that as well? Does it become less “fully realized” if voter turnout goes down? Or is the internet now the precondition for the perfect realization of democracy? (Tell that to the dead children in Afghanistan, brought to you by that same democracy.)

    Don’t bite the hand that feeds. Who would have read your statement had we not been debating on a very American-style bog?

    This strikes me as a bit disingenuous. I would have made the same argument if we were discussing this at an izakaya somewhere. The fact that I wrote it on your blog, where other people may or may not read it doesn’t mean much on its own. We could also be having this exchange on the editorial pages of a newspaper. They used to have those before the internet. It also fails to notice the distinction (what I’ve been arguing for here) between the-internet-as-that-which-I-wish-it-to-be-for-my-own-entertainment-or-intellectual-satisfaction and the-internet-as-unambiguously-positive-mechanism-for-progressive-social-change-which-the-Japanese-are-afraid-to-embrace.

  89. W. David MARX Says:

    I would have made the same argument if we were discussing this at an izakaya somewhere.

    Izakaya debates require some manner of personal identification, and my guess is, you’d be a lot more polite if you had to put a traceable name/face to your words. Anonymity, first and foremost, gives people the hedonic pleasure of being a dick and not having to pay any social repercussions for it.

  90. Anon Says:

    I didn’t think I was being so impolite, so my apologies if I’ve offended you somehow; I certainly don’t get any pleasure from being called a dick. Even anonymous commenters have feelings. (Was that entirely necessary? If you objected to something I said it would have been more civil to simply say so.)

  91. W. David MARX Says:

    Nah, nah. It’s not just you. But I think it’s just the overall tone of anonymous comments that are always a little more piercing than named comments. This is inevitable by nature.

  92. Adamu Says:

    “heavy lifting”

    Yes, much more of that is required. But we have JOBS man.

  93. links for 2009-05-28 : Eggplantia5 Says:

    [...] Néojaponisme » Blog Archive » The Fear… of the Internet (tags: internet society foreign japanese behavior socialnetworking identity) [...]

  94. Anon Says:

    Well, as a gaijin in Japan, surely you can at least imagine what it feels like to be judged on the basis of people with whom you may in fact have very little in common. Perhaps it’s best not to conflate anonymous commenting with 2-ch. For my part I do try to be civil regardless of whether I sign my name.

  95. Aceface Says:

    “a gaijin in Japan, surely you can at least imagine what it feels like to be judged on the basis of people with whom you may in fact have very little in common.”

    You don’t have to be a “gaijin” in Japan to feel that way.Anon.

  96. Twitted by hirokotabuchi Says:

    [...] This post was Twitted by hirokotabuchi – Real-url.org [...]

  97. M-Bone Says:

    http://blogs.suntimes.com/scanners/2009/05/the_day_the_privacy_died.html#more

    Some intersection with this debate.

  98. Japón : ¿Miedo a internet? ( 日本:インターネットは怖い? ) | Viajes low cost Says:

    [...] a eduo, que nos preguntaba a varios nuestra opinión sobre este interesante artículo me he planteado algo que nunca se me hubiera ocurrido… ¿hasta qué punto en Japón, el país [...]

  99. Mutantfrog Travelogue » Blog Archive » So what’s up with the Japanese web - disappointing or enthralling? Says:

    [...] Marxy: The Japanese web needs to evolve into a place where people can use their real names and have an influence on public discourse instead of hiding in anonymous communities. (A continuation of his Fear of the Internet article) [...]

  100. Roy Berman Says:

    “. And don’t even get me started on WiFi. It is embarrassing that a country that portrays itself as a technological wonderland doesn’t offer WiFi hotspots in its airports.”

    I was happy to find out when I missed a flight earlier this year that Kansai airport has FREE wifi throughout.

  101. Roy Berman Says:

    “Speaking of YT, remember that they recently reached a deal with JASRAC to pay regular blanket fees for users to post copyrighted music. Though people have big problems with JASRAC’s status as the arbiter of creative expression in this country it apparently puts YT in line with the current Japanese laws”
    Technically the JASRAC license only applies to original performances of JASRAC controlled music, i.e. cover songs. It’s a tiny amount of freedom, but not nearly as big as it was made out to be unless it leads to similar licenses that cover more content.

  102. Justin Leach » Privacy scare after photo of princess posted on the INTERNET Says:

    [...] that may or may not show a member of the Japanese royal family was posted on Mixi (part of the scary internet). Somehow, this very dull photograph showing a girl in a school uniform smiling has created an [...]

  103. Designs on the elderly « Mysteries of Life in Japan Says:

    [...] to read and not particularly reader-friendly, a common problem with websites in Japan. (Read here for a good explanation.) The phenomenon seen throughout the United States, in which newspapers are [...]