The Jimusho System: Part Two
Part Two: Organizational Characteristics of Jimusho — Size and Keiretsu
In Part One we looked at labor relations within Japanese entertainment industry management companies. This time, we will look at the jimushos’ relations to each other. As we will see, the industrial field of Japanese entertainment offers less than perfect transparency, and our general understanding must come from a mix of industry accounts backed up by third-party verifications — where available.
Small size firms
For being so powerful within the entertainment industry, most jimusho are relatively small companies. For example, moderate-sized record label EMI Music Japan (formerly Toshiba-EMI) has over ¥1.667 billion in capital. Meanwhile, Burning Production — the management company said to dominate the industry — only has a mere ¥20 million (source here as the current corporate website for Burning lacks almost all company information). Burning Production itself has a very limited number of talent, almost none of whom are particularly young. It is almost fair to say that Burning’s talent list appears at first to be a bit underwhelming for an agency reputed to be so powerful.
Another key characteristic is that almost all jimusho are privately-held companies, with the exception of Avex, Hori Pro, Amuse, and Yoshimoto Kogyo (which the major TV stations will soon buy out together). Without being publicly-traded on stock exchanges, the companies have no legal
impedance impetus to reveal information about earnings. We have no way of knowing how much money is coming in and out of these companies. For example, despite decades-long domination of the pop charts and television dramas, young male idol purveyor Johnny’s Jimusho still controls its image as a mysterious, family-run enterprise with only the slightest presence as a “business” — one with growth, acquisitions, etc.
So there are thousands of relatively tiny privately-held artist management companies across Japan, with Hiroshi Aoyagi (author of Islands of Eight Million Smiles) estimating 1,600 in Tokyo alone. Oricon Nenkan 2005 listed 975 operating in Eastern Japan. We can easily say there are around 1,000 in the country who do significant levels of business within the industry.
The keiretsu system
1,000 firms makes the Japanese entertainment management business sound like an industrial field with heavy levels of competition and diversity. This number, however, is a misleading figure. Although most of these companies appear to be independent, they are in reality organized into very hierarchical keiretsu-type organizations.
The keiretsu are the key to understanding the jimusho system, but unfortunately, this is also the most oblique characteristic of the field to measure and observe. While some jimusho openly admit formal subsidiaries (Topcoat, for example, is part of Watanabe Productions), in the vast majority of cases, there is no official or otherwise publicly-revealed relation between companies in the same keiretsu. This becomes a major problem for objective reporting and analysis. Insiders and insider publications like Cyzo refer to certain talent agencies as being part of the Burning Keiretsu, for example, but there is no evidence on paper or public pronouncements from Burning itself that this corporate group exists. And most actors and models within these agencies may have no idea that their small firm answers to a larger one.
Wikipedia Japan in the past had a long internal debate as whether to acknowledge the mythic “Burning Keiretsu” or not. In the end, Wikipedia editors killed the article as the mass media has never confirmed its existence. Yet, most industry insiders — and talent in my acquaintance within the jimushos alleged to be in the Burning Keiretsu — talk about the Burning Keiretsu being real. For example, Fujiwara Norika of agency Someday is widely understood to be part of the Burning group. Same goes for Nakayama Miho of Big Apple or Mizukawa Asami of Atlantis. Without this knowledge, all of these firms look to be independent, and therefore, in heavy competition. Yet, the real structure is that the boss at the main agency at top of the keiretsu doles out work to each of the subsidiaries and makes final decisions about which talents get what projects.
The best insider account of how these jimusho are organized into hierarchies was a website called Geinokai Sogo Kenkyujo. Unfortunately the site went dark a few years ago. (A cached copy here). Many of the site’s allegations about the Burning Keiretsu, however, can be confirmed by looking at publishing rights transfers or cataloging the specific jimusho who use Burning’s official subsidiary Proceed to build their web pages. On the other hand, many claims — such as the idea that Nagara Production controls a group overseeing most Visual-Kei bands and the Being/Giza group — have almost no public record and are essentially insider information that we must judge by our assessment of the author’s credibility.
According to industry contacts, membership to a keiretsu can also be set by a simple phone call: the “boss” from the parent company calls a new management company and asks whether the new jimusho is in the group or out. Most subsidiaries, however, are formed by managers inside the group branching out and opening up their own agency.
What does a small company get in return for being in a part of the keiretsu? Being in a keiretsu means use of the larger company’s network and power — at a price. Without any formal capital relations, we can only speculate on the nature of “payback” to the parent company — anything from complicated “consulting service” schemes to cash in envelopes to the more common and (completely legal) transferral of publishing rights. This is not to say that the relationship is necessarily illegal, but we in the public have little way to measure how the companies interact.
Proving the keiretsu exist
So how can we prove the insider accounts that these keiretsu do exist? The most effective way is to look at the transfer of publishing rights in the record industry. Many small companies alleged to be part of a larger organization will give their talens’ publishing rights to the “parent” company. Oricon shows that most of the alleged members of the Burning keiretsu did give Burning Publishing their rights back in the 1980s. (For whatever reason, this practice stopped or stopped being recorded by Oricon in the 1990s.) Southern All-Stars’ jimusho Amuse famously gave the band’s early publishing to Burning, which was speculated as a way to be “let inside” the industry. Amuse is no longer part of the Burning keiretsu, but Burning still owns the rights to “Katte ni Sinbad” and other early SAS songs.
Let’s take the example of Avex Trax — the incredibly popular record label with a management company wing. Geinokai Sogo Kenkyujo alleged that Avex was a member of the Burning Production keiretsu, which seems odd in that Avex is a much larger company than Burning on paper. Why would Avex need to be in Burning’s group? This seems like a ludicrous claim when viewed from outside the industry.
The publishing rights database on JASRAC, however, reveals how the relationship between the companies may possibly work. Burning owns an enormous number of songs from artists in the Avex management company, including mega-hits from Hamasaki Ayumi and Every Little Thing. (Here is a list of all the artists Burning owns publishing from.) From a purely rational business perspective, Avex should have no reason to give up publishing rights, in that it has its own highly-profitable publishing company. This transfer of rights best makes sense as a “tribute” to the top company in its hierarchy. (Another strange thing is that Burning’s ownership of these Avex rights has never been disclosed on the Oricon charts, which always prints the owner of publishing during the time of the song release.)
The “odd” behavior of keeping firms small and separate
So why do the major jimusho in the industry work in this non-transparent, small-firm structure rather than just expanding the size of their own firms? This is not behavior seen in most industries where firms want to grow in size, hold an IPO to raise cash, and possibly acquire other firms.
The small size has certain perks. In a private email exchange, Néojaponisme commenter Mulboyne pointed out that the Japanese tax code generally encourages company formation rather than corporate expansion and that the service sector suits a multiple-company structure. Having this structure helps the main company avoid paying tax. This does not necessarily mean that the companies are engaging in tax evasion, but it lessens the tax burden. This, however, puts them on a different level of corporate legitimacy than, say, Sony, Toyota, or Nintendo.
This structure also allows the major jimusho to control the industry without audiences having any idea of what is happening. For example, the three main models of magazine CanCam during its peak in 2007 all came from the K-Dash keiretsu, but on paper Ebihara Yuri and Oshikiri Moe were from Pearl while Yamada Yu was from K-Dash proper. This arrangement made it look less like a monopoly to people outside of the industry.
The small size also fits with the somewhat unique jimusho culture of avoiding the public eye. In general, the giants of the industry, who sit atop the keiretsu structure, rarely give interviews to the media, show up in front of the camera or otherwise leave traces of their existence. There are basically zero public photographs of Suho Ikuo, the head of Burning Productions and so-called “don” of the industry. (Lately, a single grainy image has appeared on the net.) Same goes for Tetsuo Taira, once of Rising Production (now Vision Factory), who spent some years in jail for tax evasion. Johnny Kitagawa of Johnny’s Jimusho is also famously reclusive. (Tatsuo Kawamura of entertainment group K-Dash — and pro wrestling management — tends to appear in public more often than his peers.) These business leaders tend to fit the image of the kuromaku — the man behind-the-curtain. This is a very different culture than Hollywood’s extravagant industry moguls like David Geffen. But even holding for American ego-centricism, there is something a bit eerie that the Japanese industry’s most powerful men (and they are almost always men) work so hard to make sure the public does not know who they are.
What the keiretsu structure means
If we go ahead and assume that the industry is run in these keiretsu groups, we then can understand how there can be heavy oligopoly even in a field with a large number of firms. Essentially, only the top jimusho groups have access to placing talent on TV shows, in commercials, and in other high-profile work. As I stated above, the main bosses of about a dozen groups dictate to the media and advertising agencies whom from their keiretsu they want used rather than having an open audition process, where even small firms can provide upcoming talent. (Even the bit roles in Japanese TV shows are usually fleshed out by junior members of the stars’ agency.) The keiretsu arrangement allows the jimusho to control access to hundreds of celebrities, which in turn gives them market power in transactional relationships between themselves and the media. If the media does not want to use a new star, the boss can then threaten to pull all of his talents from use in that media.
The end result is that new stars who score big advertising campaigns or TV spots for their debut singles almost exclusively come from one of the big jimusho groups. This means that independent jimusho who are not aligned with one of the big keiretsu are essentially locked out of the more lucrative parts of the industry system. There are always spots on TV for “popular” talent who come from outside the keiretsu system but they are always “last hired, first fired.” In other words, they only get access to the media after they have proven success at a grass-roots level, and they are not invited back if they cease to show popularity.
The end result is that innovation or change in talent type must come from the big groups, and ultimately, the men at the top of those few companies make the decisions about which entertainers appear in the industry. Deductively-speaking it does not make sense that the jimusho would launch stars who would pose a threat to their business model.
Next time, we will look why the jimusho have become so powerful and how the system’s needs — rather than the market’s — determines what kind of star the jimusho pushes.
Click here for The Jimusho System Part Three.
June 29, 2010 at 12:55 pm
[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Néojaponisme, Daniel Morales. Daniel Morales said: RT @neojaponisme: [Marxy] New article on Japanese entertainment industry here: http://is.gd/d8p0s […]
June 29, 2010 at 2:00 pm
Thanks for writing this, very interesting as always. I have two questions:
1) This alleged corporate behavior seems like exactly the sort of thing that international capitalism is so good at doing away with- say what you will about the 5 US/EU majors, Clear Channel, etc., but at least it is totally clear what you are dealing with at all times. Being that a system wherein producers are attempting to dictate rather than meet consumers’ demands is inherently inefficient, why do you think Sony or EMI or Warner haven’t just cleaned all of this up? 1.6 billion yen is not much to those guys.
2) If Avex is in fact part of the Burning keiretsu, and those early publishing-rights transfers constitute its “tribute” to Ikuo et al, can we assume that now, nothing is stopping it from taking whatever it actually owns and attempting to build a Burning-free artist management company on its own? Now that the dues are paid, what is keeping it in the Burning family? I have a scary guess, but it has to do with organized crime and this is a family web-journal.
June 29, 2010 at 2:06 pm
why do you think Sony or EMI or Warner haven’t just cleaned all of this up?
They are record labels and have no corporate capabilities to manage talent. And when the record industry started, the jimusho already claimed control of master rights (more next time), which has made them incredibly weak players in the market.
Sony was smart in having its own management wing, which as far as I can tell, has never really played by the Burning rules. Again, they are a publicly-traded company.
2) Now that the dues are paid, what is keeping it in the Burning family?
Suzuki Ami also tried to leave the Burning family and look what happened to her. That being said, my guess is that Avex has had a productive relationship with Burning (and Vision Factory, an alleged Burning subsidiary.)
June 29, 2010 at 2:33 pm
[…] Continue reading this article at Néojaponisme. […]
June 29, 2010 at 5:36 pm
Do you think the civilian broadcasters are all over the Sumo mob ties thing while ignoring geinojin stuff because Sumo is on NHK?
June 29, 2010 at 5:39 pm
I don’t have any confidence in answering that question.
We will talk about the organized crime mob ties later on, but NHK is as guilty as anyone there. The entire elite structure knows what is going on and refuses to do anything about it. They are too dependent on the system to go after it.
June 29, 2010 at 5:47 pm
My impression is that civilian broadcasters don’t have anything to lose by hammering sumo, but could be put at odds with JJ or whoever if they took on the geinokai. As a result, they are going extra hard on a gang scandal for a change. It will be interesting to see how the baseball betting scandal continues to play out.
Also, I remember something about an Odoru Daisosasen blacklisting but I see all of the cast (that I remember) in the commercials. I did a quick Google but couldn’t come up with anything. Do you know how that worked out?
June 29, 2010 at 5:50 pm
Burning was in charge of casting Odoru and one of the main cast Miki Mizuno had left Burning in 2005 and gone indie. So she was cut and replaced with someone in Burning — Yuki Uchida. This is a pretty clear case of why not to leave the Burning group. Even if you were in the original series, they will cut you.
June 29, 2010 at 6:18 pm
I have no recollection of Mizuno whatsoever….
I’m really looking forward to the next part but I have to ask now – there are only 4 really big civilian networks in Japan. Is there a reason why they didn’t get together, tell the Jimusho what’s what, and set up their own talent systems? (I imagine that there would have been a sweet spot to do this around 1975-1985 during the idol turnover and manzai boom and right after Kadokawa pulled his cross media thing). If this is going to be answered in the next part, I can wait.
June 29, 2010 at 7:41 pm
I suspect that the TV stations (1) don’t really care that they are being told what talents to use because they are completely uninterested in creating “quality” programming (2) are likely getting massive settai and kickbacks from the current situation. There are probably times when the jimushos foist things on them against their will, but the problem with the stations forming a cabal is that someone will break it. If all the stations say no to Johnny’s, TV Tokyo may say yes and get all of the Johnny’s viewer base.
Johnny’s basically pulled out of Fuji’s Hey! Hey! Hey for years because Rising was trying to get their own boy bands on their (ie Da Pump and W-INDS). Once those guys appeared, Jonnny’s made good on their promise and refused to show up on the show. TV Asahi meanwhile reaped the “benefit” of having Johnny’s on Music Station all the time (like always.)
June 29, 2010 at 10:06 pm
Very interesting article so far. I knew about Johnny’s Jimusho but had no idea about the other jimusho’s. They remind me of the old Hollywood studio system. Not only because of the “grooming” of talent.
Looking forward to the rest.
June 30, 2010 at 2:21 am
They are record labels and have no corporate capabilities to manage talent.
Don’t they do it everywhere in the world that isn’t Japan? You’d think that the expertise and best practices, at least, would be exportable, even if for other reasons the model isn’t viable in the local market.
The jimusho already claimed control of master rights
OK, that seems like a pretty big deal.
It seems like on one side, you have some guys who might be mobbed up, aren’t afraid to play rough promotion/distribution, and own a pretty lucrative backlog of famous recordings; on the other side; you’ve got the people who own the music industry top-to-bottom in America and Europe. Is that a fair characterization of the situation? If so, who could bet on the Jimusho long-term?
June 30, 2010 at 7:33 am
Fascinating article. Sorry to nitpick, but:
The word is “impetus.”
June 30, 2010 at 1:48 pm
[…] from a mix of industry accounts backed up by third-party verifications — where available. Click here to read the rest of the […]
June 30, 2010 at 1:53 pm
Record labels would be pretty bad at managing stars who are not exclusively musicians, which is mostly the case in Japan.
The master rights is a big deal. I will get to it next time.
And of course I will look at the “organized crime” issue in more detail later. Good to remember that organized crime was a problem in the US industry, even up until the 90s when they had taken over the distribution networks (read Hit Men).
June 30, 2010 at 3:51 pm
Is there anything to hip hop organized crime ties or is that all fake?
June 30, 2010 at 3:54 pm
I think the issue was that Death Row had some kind of ties, but whether that was Nosa Costra or L.A. drug gangs, I don’t know. 1950s-style U.S. mob ties were definitely Italian mafia. Same goes for the distribution later.
In the case of Japan, entertainment has long been the “territory” of the yakuza so it’s more like the 1950s example than the Death Row Records example.
July 1, 2010 at 6:49 am
So, in what ways does this hurt the talent?
Is it only that they don’t control the rights to their creative output and can’t switch their affiliation if they’re unhappy? Or does it go beyond that?
The existence of lots of small management companies suggests more diverse artists getting scouted and produced.
July 1, 2010 at 8:15 pm
But Marxy is saying precisely the opposite: that many of the smaller agencies are secretly part of large groups, and that this structure enables the big agencies to conceal their dominant position and create an illusion of variety where it doesn’t really exist.
For example, “the three main models of magazine CanCam during its peak in 2007 all came from the K-Dash keiretsu, but on paper Ebihara Yuri and Oshikiri Moe were from Pearl while Yamada Yu was from K-Dash proper”.
P.S. Read Part One if you haven’t already. It talks about how artists are salaried employees of the jimusho and as such have to do whatever they’re told, and don’t necessarily get any of the money they bring into the jimusho.
July 2, 2010 at 9:48 pm
Speak of the devil – an interesting development with Yoshimoto
July 3, 2010 at 4:02 am
This is actually very good, both part 1 and 2.
Marxy, do you know Carolyn Stevens?
You have similar education and interests – and her book on Japanese popular music looks at the jimusho in some detail – All the information I have about the book is second hand. Have you read it?
Whats weird, is that there is actually very little scholarly reference material on this aspect of the keiretsu and I can find tons on say, keiretsu in autmobiles, etc from economists, etc. Given the huge role of the Japanese media, that there are very few papers and books on this kinda sucks.
Concealment, I totally agree with. Why? Are there any larger issues related to the control of publicly available information – moulding public opinion etc – A parrallel to the shukanshi in the entertainment world? Are larger questions of political, (not merely crime or mob ties) justified?
July 3, 2010 at 8:10 am
I read parts of Stevens’ book last year. She talks a bit about the jimusho system but never gets this specific.
Given the huge role of the Japanese media, that there are very few papers and books on this kinda sucks.
This is all insider knowledge that is nearly impossible to confirm — even if you look up corporate records, etc.! So for a normal academic, it goes way too far into investigative journalism. Almost nothing is in the public record, and few will go on record with any kind of reliable information.
The two issues are that (1) the Japanese media is extremely sensitive about criticizing the media structure. No one likes talking about the kisha club system, and the reporters are incredibly hostile towards change there. Talking about the jimusho system essentially would be incriminating for the media world when it comes to the corruption involved in casting/booking. The media also looks very weak when you realize that these jimusho bosses are literally making their decisions for them.
(2) The organized crime part of the story, which I will get to next time. Reporters are worried about legal and extralegal threats. The magazines like Uwasa no Shinso, Cyzo, and Paper Bomb that do write about this stuff get sued ALL THE TIME by the jimusho bosses. And even when they win, like Bunshun receiving legal acknowledgment that Johnny Kitagawa probably did rape his underage employees, the mass media continues to ignore the issue. There is just too much money at stake. The jimusho system isn’t just some parasite that everyone wants to get rid of. It’s part of the system, and everyone is being “rewarded” to a certain degree by keeping it in place.
July 3, 2010 at 8:59 am
“So for a normal academic”
It goes further than this – there is almost nothing in English about Japanese TV dramas, wideshows, the geinokai in general, discussion of TV news broadcasts, etc.
The reason, I think, is that you have to be in Japan for an extended period to attempt any of this – most academics are in Japan for 1-2 months a year at best. Usually the content study comes first an then the attention to structure (as something has to be established as culturally important before people will get worked up about this). There is some study of Japanese music, but I haven’t seen much that goes beyond the “gender images” approach (which is fine), “globalization”, or looks at it from a music studies POV.
There is also the fact that this sort of popular culture is just not a significant export market (into English-speaking markets, unlike automobiles, etc.) so it is unlikely that someone passionately interested in this area could convince a business, etc. department to hire them and that is where most of the study of keiretsu have been done. In effect, academics are also “rewarded” to not care.
One of the “big themes” of English speaking academia is continuity from pre-war to postwar and since most of this is of postwar vintage and has few prewar parallels (unless you want to use the wartime propaganda regime as metaphor) it just hasn’t been established as a “sexy” topic.
A bottom line that applies to me is – why study this when you can study other areas (like anime / manga, literature, highbrow magazines) that are more audience driven, friendly to auteurs, and fun to watch/read, and better for an academic career?
July 3, 2010 at 9:11 am
Personally-speaking, I have seen very, very little academic study on Japanese pop culture (outside of Japan) that is economic-sociological or otherwise structural. It’s mostly just topological readings of the content without much concern with the industrial structure. Or there is a lot of anthropological work on how individuals relate with the culture as fans, but little on why that particular culture got to the fans in the first place.
On that point, I give Christine Yano’s work on enka some props as she showed how the actual industry shapes the enka singer and her work rather than the artist herself or even her composers. The structure sets a formula, and without understanding the structure, you lose sight of the meaning.
July 3, 2010 at 9:12 am
There really is an article entitled “SMAP, Sex, and Masculinity: Constructing the Perfect Female Fantasy in Japanese Popular Music”.
In any case, I think what Marxy is doing here is important precisely because academics aren’t into it.
July 3, 2010 at 9:17 am
My problem with the SMAP piece is the assumption that SMAP would get to be on TV all the time so that women have a chance to fall in love with them. Women have not fallen in love with idols groups they don’t know. So if you don’t understand the fact that Johnny’s is able — through non-transparent and deep connections to TV Asahi — to put his acts on Music Station EVERY SINGLE WEEK since the 1980s, you just believe that SMAP being on TV all the time is a given. It’s not. Meanwhile, Da Pump can’t get on TV to save their lives, because Johnny’s works to keep them out. So no one writes academic essays about Da Pump.
Culture is only mass culture — and therefore “meaningful” — when it can actually reach consumers. I am most interested in that process.
July 3, 2010 at 9:32 am
“that is economic-sociological or otherwise structural”
Film, manga, and literature have all been done to various degrees. There have also been some pieces that look at globalization themes – the flow of Asian music into Japan and Japanese music into Asia through the point of view of industry structures.
“but little on why that particular culture got to the fans in the first place.”
It is very difficult to prove that producer visions are really that important when compared to fan co-option of material, however. This isn’t just a facet of Japanese media studies, it applies across the board. Economic-structural approaches (which are basically Marxist views of control of the masses through control of content and the economics of the superstructure) when you get right down to it) went down hard in the 1970s and pretty much all of cultural studies has been devoted to presenting alternatives.
“The structure sets a formula”
The problem is that this makes consumers passive, takes away their agency, doesn’t tell us anything about what happens qualitatively on the consumption end, and devalues the give and take between production and consumption sides. It is one part of what should be studied, but it has pretty much been abandoned as the most important.
There has been a departure from the focus on genre in film studies for similar reasons.
A good example to work in here is the criticism of Noam Chomsky. Chomsky does a great job of looking at structural characteristics of the American media – where they get information, how they sell it, and how that engenders certain “silences” in the content. Through this, however, he can’t explain his solid popularity nor can he really tell us if “the man” is setting the tone for highly nationalist reporting or if “the man” is in fact shaped by the consumption side. The structural approach (like Marxism) usually ends up prefiguring social authoritarianisms and thus scholars are very wary of it. So effectively, this sort of approach went out long before Japan scholars even became interested in pop culture.
July 3, 2010 at 9:44 am
I can see how the Marxist structural approach goes too far, but in the case of Japanese mainstream pop culture, where (1) consumers usually have very little agency in deciding what is actually “popular” (2) artists have decreasing amounts of control of their work as they become more lucrative and (3) a large section of consumers prefer whatever is determined to be the “correct” thing to consume, a structuralist model is much more important than it may be elsewhere. In other words, there is agency but it is so minor in many cases that discussing it will almost always ultimately overemphasize its importance.
An example that I use a lot but is potent is the fact that the consumer market massively drifted away from Johnny’s Jimusho in the early 1990s — and yet, the acts still appeared on TV and kept other acts from staying on. So here is, in the short run, consumers moving away from the dominant market products, but Johnny’s control was able to allow him to eventually introduce new acts that recaptured the audience. (Mostly because the TV shows co-opted popular musicians, brought them back to the music shows, re-convinced audiences that the music shows had authority, and the consumers fell in love with the “legitimate” artists on the show, who happened to be from Johnny’s and the other idol agencies.) In the long run, Johnny’s has such control that he is completely unaffected by consumer demands or choice.
So yes, let’s look at agency but let’s also look at how the structure limits that agency.
The functionalist problem with Marxism does not apply here: We know exactly who is making the decisions and holding the power. It’s not abstract “authority” but actual organizations and people that can be identified.
The structuralist model is inherently pessimistic and not “feel good.” And you have to admit that most cultural studies — whether anthropological or literary — tends to have a “cheery” view on foreign cultures. Momus represents an extreme view of that, but there is a cultural relativism at heart at much of this that explicitly comes into conflict with a universalist, structuralist analytical model.
July 3, 2010 at 9:48 am
This is also why I find Azuma Hiroki to be the most believable of the otaku theorists because he sees the anime itself conditionalizing their sexuality rather than the otaku somehow being able to have their sexual needs perfectly reflected in the media in order to satisfy their demands. The otaku didn’t originally ask for cat ears — they were told that cat ears are sexy and now they demand more.
July 3, 2010 at 11:02 am
“consumers usually have very little agency in deciding what is actually “popular””
It’s not enough just to say that, however. Let’s move away from music for a second and look at another popular geinojin – Becky.
Becky, if memory serves me correctly, was not being groomed early on for a position as one of the most sought after talent (and one of the highest earners of CM yen) but began as a second tier kids program regular. It was audience reactions at each stage of her career development that led to her growing into a star. This is also the case with major comedians – Sanma, Beat Takeshi, Shimada Shinsuke – all captured audience imaginations at some point.
In your above example, you do a great job of explaining why Da Pump are NOT popular, but you don’t really tell us much about SMAP. They were selected from among a slate of boy band candidates. To what degree did management consideration of audience reactions work here? Other JJ acts have not had the same longevity. How much of this is due to consistent audience reactions and how much to their simple presence? Other acts have been pushed and failed to last. What about the FORM that SMAP performances take? Was the casting of Kimutaku in “Long Vacation” due to JJ and the television station’s desire to push him on audiences or an estimation that audience reactions would be positive, allowing them to build the brand?
In a way, we can make a comparison to Nintendo. They limit what appears on their machines but have a clear, I would think, record of creating the kind of content that appeals to audiences. They combine the tweaking of content to meet audience demand and clear leadership in the market (DS touchscreen) to shape audience demand. SMAP is an entirely different case, but one of the reasons why the “forced consumers” line of argument won’t float in academia is that it is impossible to prove that what JJ is doing is any different than Jerry Bruckheimer hitmaking. The way that they smite other acts may explain why some fade away, but nothing yet explains where a group like SMAP comes from in the first place and the degree to which the producer’s decisions are shaped by audience demand. After all, there are a million other things that could have been done with SMAP – can we really say that absolutely anything would have been fine as long as JJ willed it popular?
“a large section of consumers prefer whatever is determined to be the “correct” thing to consume”
But once again, your model isn’t explaining exactly where this concept of correctness comes from. It is “produced”. No doubt about that. But structures also provide feedback loops that make it very difficult to determine where agency lies.
“the consumer market massively drifted away from Johnny’s Jimusho in the early 1990s — and yet, the acts still appeared on TV and kept other acts from staying on. So here is, in the short run, consumers moving away from the dominant market products, but Johnny’s control was able to allow him to eventually introduce new acts that recaptured the audience.”
This story can also be used to support my line of argument. Johnny’s control didn’t prevent him from losing market share in the first place. The behind the scenes games are just the kind of illiberal BS that you have been exposing, but how can we really say that the moves he made to recover popularity were not mediated, to a large degree, by an awareness of shifting consumer preferences?
“tends to have a “cheery” view on foreign cultures”
It originates from a cheery view of domestic working class culture and the idea that the motives of producers are not easily accessible. We can look at audience reactions through the moment of popularity, but by the time something is popular, producers have already lost their ability to narrate what it is they were thinking with any degree of reliability as what became popular gradually becomes their rationale for continuing.
“This is also why I find Azuma Hiroki to be the most believable of the otaku theorists”
Azuma is also arguing that the producers of anime are also otaku – meaning that it was otaku producers who identified things like nekomimi and spread them across a consumption sphere that producers straddle as well (how else would Anno have been able to create Rei?).
I think that you might be reading Azuma through the lens of your methodology. In a way, is he also not presenting otaku as “evolved” consumers? Azuma does not see “database” consumptive style as representing the reduction of otaku to passive consumers, but rather their participation in the deconstruction of grand narrative styles of consumption (“correct consumption”, SMAP’s Sekai hitotsu dake no hana, etc.). He sees them (and himself, see his recent novel where he casts himself as a light novel “chara”, playing with a database of archetypal formulas) as coopting and breaking down domination modes of imagination and reassembling them along the lines of desire – and he sees this as a shared project among producers (like Anno or a horde of cat ears artists) and fan-producers who are disassembling popular characters in dojinshi or (fantasies) and reassembling them with cat ears, raped, etc.
He does illustrate them as desiring control and patterns of animalistic response, but he also sees the cultural sphere that they have created as (in his words) “auto-deconstructive”, in animal affect it is assumed that there is a certain transgressive creativity.
Azuma on Evangelion FOLLOWING fan the imaginary (from the Animalizing essay version)- “In any event, this grand narrative broke down spectacularly in the last episode of the TV series. Moreover, what appeared at the moment of its breakdown was the world of secondary or fan production. Specifically, what appeared in the twenty-fifth and twenty-sixth episodes of the TV series Evangelion was the world of secondary production as already in circulation through the Comiket (comic market) and personal computer communications. In other words, its creators made a parody of the parody in advance. And, in their rather wonderful way, they pieced together an autocritique of their impasse. In other words, in his effort to see this grand narrative through to the end, its director Anno Hideaki ultimately could not help but criticize the character industry, in order to preserve his status as author, as a matter of self-defense. Anno flirted with the impossible task of constructing a grand narrative in the 1990s, but in the end it proved impossible, and all that remained was Ayanami Rei as a moe kyara, that is, as an affective figure.”
Azuma effectively sees the producers as being blown away by the co-option.
The cat ears are also presented as an example of open, consumer driven consumption – “For instance, Dejiko appears with cat ears, yet it’s just a cat-ear hat that you can remove. The character itself does cosplay. What a great set-up! Affective elements can be put on or taken off, just as the consumer pleases, allowing any number of assemblages.”
These quotes suggest that Azuma isn’t supporting your position.
July 3, 2010 at 11:18 am
Also worth pointing out, as usual, that I wouldn’t bother to critique if I didn’t think that what you are doing is really interesting.
I think this is, however, an instance where returns diminish as claims inflate. You’ve put a very nuanced smackdown on the industry – it doesn’t need to solve the audience problem too.
July 3, 2010 at 11:29 am
Becky is of course in Sun Music — a traditionally strong jimusho (that has seen some rocky times these days with the Sakai Noriko scandal). So yes, viewers were allowed to “vote” on her ONCE she was in the system. In this sense, I agree we need the methodology you are suggesting to balance out understanding how the audience issue works. Why did consumers love SMAP and not Tokio? But I think these issues have be taken up once we have acknowledged that the field is limited to certain acts and certain kind of acts. I am always more interested in, why is Tokio on TV so much despite never having much market success?
There is also the fact that if the TV stations started boycotting Johnny’s tomorrow and all the stars lost their TV shows, commercials, campaigns, spokesmanship jobs, film roles, etc., there is a pretty good chance that they will completely be forgotten within a year. This sounds ridiculous, but we have seen it dozens of times before. Suzuki Ami had a huge fanbase that essentially went “silent” when she disappeared and those fans had to just resign themselves to not be fans of her anymore. So fandom/popularity in Japan is predicated on the artists’ strong industrial connections. I am therefore very interested in how an artist/company overcomes at first that huge structural barrier before we even talk about why consumers make a choice based on that limited set. All entertainment popularity is unpredictable, but JJ massively has their fingers on the scale.
But structures also provide feedback loops that make it very difficult to determine where agency lies.
Sure, but in the case of Japanese pop culture, and I have shown this throughout the years in specific cases, that the producers have much more power to determine the shape of culture compared to consumers. In the case of the magazine Popeye, there are “street shots” of actual consumers in the magazine, but as I explained, they are recruited from the readership, edited to show the looks the editors want to show, and then used to prove the “correctness” of the editors’ original ideas. This is a feedback loop per se, but the ultimate filter of which ideas make it to the “culture” is not equally shared.
More points later… Thanks for the critique.
July 3, 2010 at 1:16 pm
“I am always more interested in, why is Tokio on TV so much despite never having much market success?”
That’s indeed very interesting. I think that you should focus your arguments in that area. Effectively, this sort of point disrupts another part of your argument – the idea that consumer taste is determined by these dirty dealings. It apparently didn’t work for Tokio. You can make strong arguments about alternatives taken away, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that tastes are being determined from the top down, especially in a country known for its subcultures.
“So fandom/popularity in Japan is predicated on the artists’ strong industrial connections.”
You’ve also presented a different take in some areas such as your arguments about Sakai Noriko sales after she was blacklisted. These arguments show a fan (or curious consumer) initiative that shouldn’t be written out of other discussions.
In any case, my take on this is a bit different from your one. The point that you make is essentially correct, but once again, we don’t know WHY it is correct. Is the presence on TV a taste legitimizing factor? Or, as I feel is the case with SMAP, a certain sense of intimacy necessary for popularity? Does the television presence simply give fans more material from which to build connections? As with anime/manga in Azuma’s view – it is no longer the narrative content (or the songs, performances) that are important, but the availability of components from which audiences can form connections. Popular music, etc. is a zero sum game everywhere (play time, etc.) and the extent to which consumer tastes dominate this (even in the case of voting) is enormously difficult to quantify.
“used to prove the “correctness” of the editors’ original ideas. This is a feedback loop per se, but the ultimate filter of which ideas make it to the “culture” is not equally shared.”
My argument on this point is somewhat different and comes back again to the direction in academia that has led away from the “Culture Industry”. We know that Popeye manipulates the heck out of the feedback mechanism but how do we know where the ideas of the editors come from in the first place? Could they not be from the zeitgeist or directly inspired by experimental things that they see out there? Editors, filmmakers, auteurs of all kinds often (rather arrogantly) think that they are guiding public taste through their superior creativity and then through marketing tricks. There is a significant body of literature that suggests that they may instead be following, pushed up from below so to speak, rather than leading.
We still don’t even have a way of finding an answer to this important question – do American voters not consider third party options because they are pushed into it by structural factors OR is a third party not structurally viable because of American voters? An identical question can be applied to Popeye. Neither you or I is going to solve this, so I think the best way forward is to be as thorough and convincing as possible while keeping in mind that this sort of question may well be unanswerable. I feel, however, that it introduces enough doubt that we should give Japanese consumers – as well as the critics that affirm their centrality in popular culture production like Azuma and Otsuka – the benefit of the doubt… to a point.
They ironic thing, however, is that affirming the agency of Japanese consumers means they are suddenly held responsible for the avalanche of crap on TV!
July 3, 2010 at 10:39 pm
As opposed to affirming the agency of the agencies… :)
July 3, 2010 at 10:49 pm
2. […So for a normal academic, it goes way too far into investigative journalism. Almost nothing is in the public record, and few will go on record with any kind of reliable information…]
Rather odd given your acknowledgement of the pervasiveness of CR in cultural studies – this sort of thing tends to draw the anthropolgist – and urban or industrial anthropology of some sort would fit right in with what we are saying: There is no heavy burden per se on the Anthropologist not to rely on as yet unconfirmable insider information – most revolutionary anthropology really doesnt have the sort of references that we come to expect from empirical field work. Mead, Benedict, Bascom, Strauss, Harris, etc – a lot of these guys were working with insider information. I kinda expected more from Western anthropologists given their proximity to Japanese culture. Documents that provide first drafts of as yet unexplored terrain are very similar to investigative journalism even though they are scholarly.
3. Furthermore, as has been noted, we have tons of western academic work based on insider information, subject only to much, much later confirmation on just about every other field on J Culture, literature, movies, etc – when John Nathan et al, were doing analysis like decades ago, it was nearly impossible for anyone else to confirm or refute. But this was in literature and general culture – point is that modern J Pop culture as opposed to J Literature with its historical continuities, J Business, etc seems particularly resistant to analysis. That this is a feature of structure of the sector as opposed to biases / deficits on the part of scholars is not very believable – even when you take into consideration the presence of legal and extra legal threats: as there are vastly more dangerous fields that garner coverage even in the presence of these threats.
4. After reading everything you and MBone have written, I am starting to have a rethink. I am beginning to suspect that there is actually very little empirical evidence that the mass of the Japanese public is actually fooled by the smoke and mirrors game of the Jimusho. I think Japanese people know – hence, Marxy’s explanation of structure of the Jimusho in Keiretsu is unconvincing in that light – are there any polls or stats that can shed light on whether said deception is broadly accepted?
If the Jimusho are not succeeding in deceiving the public, then it must mean that the lack of attention to this area of the keiretsu is entirely due to observer biases.
a.) Do the majority of Japanese consumers believe in a non existent variety?
b.) Do they suspect the existence of the structure thats currently in place?
I dont know if this veers into audience problem territory – but the claims concerning the structure of the industry claim a specific effect on the audience, at least, some level of deception, that should prove relatively easy to test empirically.
[…A bottom line that applies to me is – why study this when you can study other areas (like anime / manga, literature, highbrow magazines) that are more audience driven, friendly to auteurs, and fun to watch/read, and better for an academic career?…]
Because popular culture finds itself refrected through anime, movies – etc. Where anime goes, JPop follows. Its inevitable. Marxy is making some pretty strong claims, that find little confirmation in scholarship, mostly because there isnt any. And the claims about the structure of that sector will of neccesity impign upon broader and larger claims about the mass culture.
July 4, 2010 at 8:26 am
that doesn’t necessarily mean that tastes are being determined from the top down, especially in a country known for its subcultures.
And my point here has been that most subcultures (and this is in no way unique to Japan) operate on the same vertical hierarchies and media collusions that characterize the mainstream of society.
You’ve also presented a different take in some areas such as your arguments about Sakai Noriko sales after she was blacklisted.
Yeah, I would describe it this way: fandom in Japan is mostly expressed through consumption. So once the system takes away the opportunity to consume, fandom itself disappears. You can’t be a Sakai Noriko fan anymore, but the iTunes things should that the feeling in the population did not turn off as quickly as the authorities would have liked.
how do we know where the ideas of the editors come from in the first place?
In general, I think it’s fair to say it comes from overseas and to a lesser extent from Japanese designers and stylists. Then it’s mixed with the current state of Japanese tastes. But I think there is a legitimacy/authority structure working here too.
The ironic thing, however, is that affirming the agency of Japanese consumers means they are suddenly held responsible for the avalanche of crap on TV!
Consumers in this situation usually have a powerful way to reject the culture the system creates: they leave the market. And if you look at TV viewership in Japan these days, that’s exactly what they are doing. World cup soccer when Japan plays can get a 70% rating! And yet the average bad variety show gets about 10%. And cable’s not even a threat…
July 4, 2010 at 8:37 am
There is no heavy burden per se on the Anthropologist not to rely on as yet unconfirmable insider information
This is a good point, and I guess the word “investigative journalism” has the nuance of “uncovering something that those who have power do not want you to discover.” That’s different than asking young women islanders about their sexuality. I think it would be hard for an academic to try to present these narratives when (1) there is so much plausible deniability built into the system (2) and you are digging up information that (dangerous) people specifically do not want to be outed over. For my master’s thesis, on which these posts are based, I used numbers to actually look at how the jimusho and TV stations are linked, and they are damning. A friend in the industry was showing those around and was told, I wouldn’t talk about it so much.
I am beginning to suspect that there is actually very little empirical evidence that the mass of the Japanese public is actually fooled by the smoke and mirrors game of the Jimusho
The whole thing is set up so that no one in Japan even thinks about the idea of management companies or their structure. Insiders love talking about it, but there’s basically not enough public presence of these companies to take over any mindshare among the general public. The companies themselves work hard to not really “appear” and the public is not informed well enough to have an opinion either way. I think they do suspect that something is going on, but (and this is a topic for another day), there is a difference when a topic is only appearing in the tabloids rather than on TV or in the newspapers. Even Wikipedia Japan has worked very hard to erase all talk about the Burning keiretsu and even destroyed the entire Burning page for a while many of the editors said, “This is a tiny agency. How could it possibly have the power people claim.” So if you accept the official story on paper — the “omote,” if you will — everything I am writing is all fantasy conspiracy theory. The issue is, the more people you talk to who are close to the actual ‘genba,’ they all have much worse stories than even the general narrative I present here.
Marxy is making some pretty strong claims, that find little confirmation in scholarship
There are a few well-written but not particularly scholarly Japanese books on this topic. I sadly would not really put “scholarship” or the academy as the final arbiter on this. I have seen more basic errors in the anthologies on Japanese pop culture than in the average Visual-kei fan page on LiveJournal. Academics don’t have a great track record yet with writing on post-war pop culture, possibly with the exception of anime/manga.
July 4, 2010 at 9:08 am
“Where anime goes, JPop follows.”
This is certainly true of “Perfume”.
“Consumers in this situation usually have a powerful way to reject the culture the system creates: they leave the market.”
We can’t always measure what is going on in these cases, however. Manga sales have been falling, but I think that when one takes piracy, borrowing, tachiyomi, manga rentals, and net cafes into account, they may be more widely than ever.
“And my point here has been that most subcultures (and this is in no way unique to Japan) operate on the same vertical hierarchies”
Not quite the same, however, as things like jimusho aren’t exactly being replicated across other markets. The Nintendo example is useful here again. What gets called “collusion” in one sphere is “business” in another. Also, once again, “flattening of hierarchies” is an Azuma buzz-word. But of course, he is at the top of his own “pop thought” hierarchy and he keeps thinkers that he doesn’t personally like out of his journal. That tells us something about Azuma, but does it really tell us something (unique) about Japan?
“very little empirical evidence that the mass of the Japanese public is actually fooled by the smoke and mirrors game of the Jimusho.”
Marxy doesn’t have to prove this to prove that the Jimusho are evil, however (just like Chomsky doesn’t need to prove that people are bamboozled to prove that newspapers are doing a poor job).
“claim a specific effect on the audience, at least, some level of deception, that should prove relatively easy to test empirically.”
I saw a few minutes of a program the other day (with Downtown, who are legitimately funny) where some other geinojin were talking about how people from their Jimusho don’t talk to people from another and how awkward it is to pretend on wideshows.
There are many examples of geinojin, especially owarai types, talking about how the jimusho takes all of their money (for laughs). To a certain point, it is poked fun at in some areas of the entertainment culture.
I’ve heard people ruminating about what the next Johnny’s act is going to be like. They may not know that he crushes acts that cross him, but there is a “brand awareness” there that ordinary people are conscious of. There have been recent efforts by Shimada Shinsuke to make geinojin bands (and that Shinsengumi thing) all the while bragging on TV about how his industry connections let him do this.
In any case, doesn’t it seem like this is the Walmart debate all over again? Sure Walmart is a big corporation that deliberately tries to smite the competition and shut down mom and pop alternatives… but consumers still like Walmart, McDonalds, etc.(Heading off the argument that Japanese people are migrating away from jimusho products – we don’t know if this is actually due to the content, or social change, the net and video games, etc.)
July 4, 2010 at 5:27 pm
The Kisha Club system is much like the jimusho system in that it exists, only insiders talk about, the public may have some vague understanding about it, but the media itself works to never openly debate it.
July 4, 2010 at 5:42 pm
We can’t always measure what is going on in these cases [of consumers leaving the market], however.
I agree with manga, but in the case of music and TV, I think there is definitely just less consumer interest/involvement in the mediums. The Japanese net does not have the ease of illegal download the way the English-language net does with rapidshare, megaupload, and bit torrent.
There are many examples of geinojin, especially owarai types, talking about how the jimusho takes all of their money (for laughs).
You can make hackneyed jokes, but you can’t name names. That’s what got Makoto Kitano blacklisted.
July 4, 2010 at 6:43 pm
[…] The Jimusho system, part 2, • J-Film Thoughts & Commentary: 1990-2000, • Kitano finds laughs even in a bloody […]
July 4, 2010 at 7:08 pm
Anyone who wants to read Uesugi tearing up the Kisha clubs, however, doesn’t need to go to Global Voices. They can check out a string of mass market paperbacks from some of Japan’s biggest publishers – 記者クラブ崩壊 新聞・テレビとの200日戦争 & ジャーナリズム崩壊 are among the best. (Although like all Kisha Club critics, he is great on structure – telling us about the clubs – but doesn’t do enough in the way of telling us about specific bits of necessary information that were withheld and what could have been done differently).
Tahara Sochiro (Japan’s most respected journalist?) has heavily criticized Kisha Clubs too – on Asanama and in 日本政治の正体 and especially in the 日本のカラクリ series.
堤 未果 also does a job on American, government-press connections, comparing them to Kisha clubs in this – アメリカからが消える.
Others have written about the problem in mainstream newspapers, including Honda Katsuichi.
I don’t think that this is at all like the Jimusho thing. As I understand it, most all Japanese with an academic or developed critical interest in the mass media know all about Kisha Club problems from these sorts of sources (this is one reason, I feel that the Minshuto thought that it would be a good issue to use to appeal to the progressive part of their base, they just failed to implement properly yet). If it wasn’t for your work, how many of us would even know that there is a Jimusho problem?
“I think there is definitely just less consumer interest/involvement in the mediums.”
I think that you are generally correct here, but for visual and other media, there are still some things that are hard to account for – Kanryu has never had much of a presence on TV, but is seriously like as big as “American Dramas” at my local Tsutaya (and I understand this is a widespread thing) as well as supporting a whole “secondary goods” industry.
I have no idea how J Dramas are doing in comparison, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they are increasingly watched/profitable in areas like DVD rentals, books and related media, secondary broadcast on cable, film and straight to DVD versions, manga tie-ins and export to Asian markets. We also have to consider something in relation to your comment above – 10% ratings for halfass wideshows may seem pitiful compared the the World Cup. But how much do you have to spend on production to net a 10% rating in the US? This, I think, is the reason why the Japanese TV zombie can withstand more than a few headshots.
I also agree with the general point that nothing can really become “kokumin-teki” from here on.
Music is probably a lost cause in any case.
July 5, 2010 at 2:59 am
I think the public have more than just a vague idea about the jimusho system but people don’t always connect the dots.
You can see similar situations overseas. If you’d asked baseball fans about players taking steroids before the BALCO scandal broke, many would have openly suspected certain stars but probably didn’t see it as a big deal. However, when TV screens filled with weeping, regretful ball players, fans were given a whole new level of detail and didn’t like what they saw.
Closer to home, you have the recent fuss over sumo. Most adults, let alone fans, were aware on some level of the links between sumo and the yakuza. If pressed, they would say the two groups probably socialized and wouldn’t have been surprised if you suggested mobsters organized sponsorship of certain wrestlers. When the public started to get specific details of day-to-day relationships it was different. The fact a large part of the sport used mob contacts to engage regularly in illegal activity caused outrage.
The media world has had more than its fair share of scandals but they haven’t really been fatal. The entertainment world is not likely to be seriously damaged while it is simply behaving like many other parts of corporate Japan so it’s important to understand what dubious practices are specific to the way it conducts business or specific to key individuals.
I appreciate Marxy’s efforts over the years to analyze the business structure behind aspects of Japan’s popular culture. I’ve often found “inscrutable” Japanese behaviour in many fields starts to look logical when you understand the economic background and the key incentives at play. They don’t explain everything but too much writing about Japan appears to ignore them completely.
I doubt if the public would be surprised to hear of tax evasion, collusion or predatory market practices. That’s not to say it’s condoned but people have a suspicion this is what companies routinely get up to anyway. Mob links are suspected in the media world just as they are in real estate, finance and construction. I think you’d need an exposé along the lines of the intimate relationships now coming to light in sumo before the public sits up and takes notice.
Of course, public tolerance can shift but the industry will probably change primarily because the old revenue models are breaking down. Right now, it’s anyone’s guess how this will play out and there is certainly no guarantee what comes next will be necessarily be more transparent.
July 6, 2010 at 12:41 am
[…Marxy doesn’t have to prove this to prove that the Jimusho are evil, however (just like Chomsky doesn’t need to prove that people are bamboozled to prove that newspapers are doing a poor job)…]
Errr – come again? Chomsky explicitly sets out to prove that people are being bamboozled in order to critique the entire media system. Thats the entire point of the whole manufacturing consent and neccesary illusions paradigm. In fact, in the extreme development of this thesis, Herman and Chomsky claim that voters have to be fooled for American pseudodemocracy to work, since the electoral machinery of the USA is an extension of its media apparatus. If Chomsky doesnt prove that people are being fooled his entire thesis falls apart – this is foundationally Marxian and proceeds even further to Gramsci and the Frankfurt school. If you arent arguing outright deception, youre arguing false consciousness or youre arguing Whats The Matter with Kansas or youre arguing Hegemony. The key is that people are being fooled. If you cant prove this – then the entire notion of “illusion” or “media empire” or “information hegemony” falls apart – because then, all youre left with is that people are on some weird self destructive binge that they are too stupid to realize – which would be awfully condescending and east coast liberals dont want to do that. Even for African Americans, McWhorter has taken pretty much the same tack simply because he doesnt want to say that he actually believes lower class blacks are dumber than he is; so, they have been deceived, by a class of black leaders, who promote a cult of victimology, separatism, etc – and its the same with Steele, Sowell,or anybody who takes it upon himself to analyse the behavior of hoi polloi. They are either stupid, or deceived.
I say that if Marxy cant show that the Japanese masses are actually fooled, then he concedes mass collusion of Japan at large with the Jimusho. If youre doing structural analysis, the implications are enormous.
And I wasnt claiming that JPop has to to follow anime to be successful – but if youre ignoring anime, youre ignoring a large part of what makes JPop exportable. But even then, dont the fan bases intersect – even in the case of Perfume that doesnt have any direct anime tie-ins.
July 6, 2010 at 9:02 am
“They are either stupid, or deceived”
Or in the case of the average Americans that Chomsky discusses, they could just not care or, having weighed options that don’t appear in his case studies, concluded that not caring makes them happier, being nationalistic is fun, etc. Notably, Chomsky makes all kinds of arguments about how Americans are presented with THIS and not THAT but he never establishes that people actually look at that part of the newspaper AT ALL.
Chomsky seems to accept a view that the American public are the way they are because of the government, not that the government is the way that it is because of the American public. There is a balance here that Chomsky isn’t very interested in teasing out in his work. I mean, let’s face it, NOTHING has changed in the internet era – most people just aren’t taking advantage of the greater access to information. Yahoo news comments are getting worse than 2ch ever was (I saw yesterday – “We should build a giant wall around Mexico and kill everyone inside it.” Voted 500+ positive, less than 100 negative).
The “stupid or deceived” binary is a great way to make ordinary people into potential revolutionaries in a certain world view and you basically need this way of looking at the world to be an activist. Chomsky implies that if the people just had adequate information, they would rise up, and that belief very obviously keeps him going. Others like Zizek have actually argued that it is this attitude on the part of the left (thou art ignorant, behold the power of true knowledge!) that prevents progressive arguments from taking off in the first place. That’s also something that Chomsky isn’t interested in looking at – would there be room for a more critical form of reportage that doesn’t involve telling readers that they are ignorant militarists? Could that not have something to do with limits on audience engagement? There is also the matter of “cosmopolitanism” – being dismissive of nationalism doesn’t seem like the smartest way to engage the nationalistic public. Richard Rorty argued very strongly that the path to cosmopolitan transcendence of nationalism was through nationalism – making international engagement and the breakdown of strict national boundaries for things like empathy in education and reporting , aid, etc. into a point of nationalist pride might be the best way to make it so.
Chomsky also presents news consumers as a homogeneous mass. His work, ironically, doesn’t explain why he has a “fan following”. What kind of people look beyond basic newspaper reporting, for what reasons, and how does this effect their political behavior? Why don’t people read more books? Chomsky says little to nothing about this.
I’ll follow up on the “why don’t people read more (and better) books question” – it is attractive to intellectuals to think that it is because marketing and the like have bamboozled people, but there are plenty of indications that fundamentalist nationalistic conservatives who can’t find France on a map are “happier” people. So are they actually being smart in their life contexts? If newspapers did start to uniformly slam foreign policy, would they simply cease to be read?
In any case, like most progressives, Chomsky is providing more of an alternative wake up call that will have an impact on some. That’s enough.
BTW, I wasn’t being sarcastic about Perfume. “Electro World” is like every 80s anime rolled into one. Many of their other songs (One Room Disco) either have ties with “sekai-kei” (either directly or coming from the same general ideas) or the “endless daily life” thing that so much of otaku culture relies on.
July 6, 2010 at 10:00 am
The Chomsky/Marxist parallel is interesting but off-track, as I will show in the next installments. The issue here is not “audience bamboozelement” but how this system shapes the products of Japanese culture/entertainment. This approach comes more from the “Production of Culture” school than straight political Marxism.
July 6, 2010 at 10:33 am
“this system shapes the products of Japanese culture/entertainment.”
That’s exactly what Chomsky SUCCESSFULLY argues about the US media, however. He proves that producers limit what is available to the public for reasons that are not transparent.
Political Marxism isn’t so relevant to this discussion, but ideas of the Marxist superstructure also include the idea that culture producers, regardless of ideology, seek to perpetuate their condition/advantage and this is also something that you are successfully arguing, so that area is relevant as well.
It is here that the problems lie –
“In the long run, Johnny’s has such control that he is completely unaffected by consumer demands or choice.”
How to establish this is the point of contention. For all of the backroom dealing, we may be looking at a man who is skilled at following trends in consumer tastes and a TV industry that finds it profitable to use him, not simply one that is afraid of the consequences of not doing it. To look at this, supply side analysis is not adequate – you would need to look long term at the way that a variety of consumers use the prodcuts and what they get out of it.
In effect, taking this track of argument about Johnny’s is similar to the Chomsky bamboozlement paradigm as both assume that structure limits availability and that alternatives would lead to an overhaul (Chomsky assumes that people would gravitate toward “better” information, you that people would prefer “better” popular culture, music criticism, etc. if it were available). There is a chance, however, that they would prefer the same sort of thing no matter what was available because of their place in determining demand in the first place. So is Johnny the ultimate puppet master or a mediator of public taste into pop culture? Would someone else still be bringing out the same kind of stuff (a “SMAP-like entity”) if Johnny wasn’t taking away that opportunity?
July 6, 2010 at 11:14 am
If you have a consumer who is most interested in a product based on its social status — legitimacy and authority — rather than internal properties of that culture — the actual content, then whoever can best control the mechanisms of creating the appearance of legitimacy/authority then “win” the culture game. So yes, the consumers are complicit in this system in accepting its fruits, but there is an assumption among the population, I believe, that there is a “fair game” that determines legitimacy. This is the issue here. And it’s why people get upset when these scandals hit the omote public sphere because they had believed the system worked out of good faith.
July 6, 2010 at 11:46 am
“If you have a consumer who is most interested in a product based on its social status”
That’s a fair line of argument, but a separate one from the Jimusho that requires a different type of proof. In your writing so far, I’ve seen you make your most convincing arguments on this in the area of fashion.
“but there is an assumption among the population, I believe, that there is a “fair game” that determines legitimacy”
That’s also another potentially important area to do some quantitative work in.
Even if there is a fair game, however, or if consumers are the clear source of legitimation, it doesn’t guarantee any more heterogeneity. Just look at some industrial, highly competitive American areas – daytime TV or romantic comedies. Very little variety in production ambition or storytelling. For a Japanese medium, manga is a case of consumer tastes in the form of surveys and careful tracking of sales being very important. But what do consumers demand? For shonen manga, it is usually the same old thing over and over again. These are examples, I think of producer/consumer collusion.
In any case, the Jimusho arguments are potent and convincing in their area of strength. They only get stronger if they make room for diverse end user utilization and the idea that Johnny and friends may be smart and ruthless instead of just ruthless.
July 6, 2010 at 6:55 pm
Chomsky explicitly states that public apathy, to the extent that it exists is not divorced from the way information is diseminated – Chomsky explicitly argues that consumer orientation is crafted, manufactured, attention diverted to other issues, etc. Theres an economics of attention thing going on there, but I’d say Chomsky claims that American govt has its peculiar structure because of peculiar features of American society – business and media interests. Chomsky argues that even the options presented and those witheld, and the marketing are structural features neccesary to acquire, in so far as is possible, the legitimate consent needed to work a democracy. Chomsky says that if people knew, they would care: and his entire thesis that there wasnt a viable antiwar movement until recently supports this, simply because in Vietnam era, even though there were mass protests, the war could proceed the way it did, simply because people did not know. I agree with most of the other stuff you said.
I dont know that the structure of the Jimusho escapes the Chomskyan paradigm.
Chomsky argues that establishing a broad consensus around legitimacy and authority is a defining attribute of imperial grand strategy. “Illegal but Legitimate” is how Chomsky sees and puts it – but very antidemocratic. We could argue historical precepts for this in Japan without denying that present structure can yield fruitful insights if subjected to Chomskyan analysis.
Caring about the internal contents may not be peculiarly Japanese – Americans may not care about the internal properties of the 2 wars sold to them – but consume rather how many units of legitimacy are being marketed: Hence, no challenge if legitimate but profoundly unconstitutional – legitimate meaning sanctioned by media, 2 electoral parties, priests etc – who are extensions of business interests.
The Jimsusho strucuture is actually starting to look like the media structure of the United States – where smaller regional newspapers, radio and TV stations are owned by larger conglomerates – its not the same, because they are marketing 3rd party information – but the structure is awfully similar and there are laws against this in the US – or limiting this, but then, you have to realize that the structure allows vertical reinforcement of information down the chain and it is this reinforcement that bestows legitimacy.
July 6, 2010 at 7:35 pm
The Jimsusho strucuture is actually starting to look like the media structure of the United States
Maybe in an incredibly abstract rhetorical way. This is a blunt observation without much practical application when you look at specifics, which is exactly what I am trying to do in the actual essays.
A more useful comparison is with the US music industry, where major labels dominate, but sociologists have shown that the “label” system allows a lot of diversity in the system. Johnny’s Jimusho only makes Johnny’s acts. Sure, they change slightly but in the wider scheme of things, the difference between Nirvana and Whitney Houston is about 1,000x greater than between SMAP and Hikaru Genji.
Americans may not care about the internal properties of the 2 wars sold to them
These aren’t really cultural products, and I am not sure I intended for my observations or model to be applied to the way wars are consumed.
July 6, 2010 at 8:36 pm
“Chomsky explicitly states that public apathy, to the extent that it exists is not divorced from the way information is diseminated – Chomsky explicitly argues that consumer orientation is crafted, manufactured, attention diverted to other issues, etc.”
Sure, he explicitly states this. He doesn’t prove it, however. In fact, throughout his work, he isn’t much interested at all what news consumers think. Chomsky, come to think of it, got in trouble with universalism in his linguistic work. I don’t think it any surprise that he was attracted to universal arguments in Marxism.
“American govt has its peculiar structure because of peculiar features of American society – business and media interests”
This is the same as the Frankfurt school’s pre-Althusserian Marxism. Althusser makes a good case for why we need to think deeper than this and similar points exist in the work of Richard Hoggart, (especially) Stuart Hall, and Raymond Williams.
“viable antiwar movement until recently supports this”
There is a viable antiwar movement!? I see a viable “let’s bring out boys home” movement….
In any case, I think very highly of Chomsky. He’s interested in changing minds, not conjuring up rock solid proof to meet the Birmingham Cultural Studies challenge. What he is doing is much more important. Important doesn’t necessarily make you irrefutable, however.
Anyway, you gotta love a discussion that features both Althusser and Hikaru Genji.
July 6, 2010 at 8:44 pm
NHK canceled the coverage of the sumo tournament.
(1) The public has a vague idea of links between sumo and yakuza.
(2) The lack of public proof means NHK has a plausible deniability.
(3) Proof emerges.
(4) The public is very angry.
(5) NHK loses the plausible deniability and has to cancel their airing.
This pattern is the most common pattern of public outrage about these matters that are usually in a gray zone. Same happened with the natto diet case.
(1) The public has a vague idea that variety show health claims are bullshit
(2) The lack of public proof means TBS has a plausible deniability.
(3) Proof emerges.
(4) The public is very angry.
(5) TBS loses the plausible deniability, has to cancel the show and apologize.
July 8, 2010 at 1:38 am
Brilliant article. I’m looking forward to future installments.
I’d also be interested to know how (since it’s not really a question of “if”) the jimusho structure/culture affects the theatre world as well, what with the mega content producers Takarazuka, Gekigan Shiki and Toho.
July 8, 2010 at 1:39 am
July 12, 2010 at 12:55 am
Slightly off-topic but I noticed there’s a small discussion above about how the Japanese entertainment world is treated in journalism and academia, I think it’s worth noting that there’s a considerable amount of work in English on Japan’s media industry produced by business analysts. A lot of it, however, is specifically for deals so it isn’t always made public.
You can date the interest directly back to the late 80s & early 90s, when Matsushita, Sony and Pioneer went shopping for music & film assets overseas. Those investments raised the question of how much Japanese companies might be prepared to pay. An important component of that calculation was the valuation of comparable domestic assets.
Certainly, there were many business ties between overseas media groups and Japanese media groups dating back further but those overseas investments specifically prompted financial analysts to get on the case. Up until that time, stock exchange-listed media companies were mainly of interest only for their real estate and financial assets, not for their operating businesses. Unlisted companies had been largely ignored.
The next wave of interest was sparked by some moves by Rupert Murdoch which history has largely forgotten. In 1996, he partnered with Softbank to buy a 21.4% block of TV Asahi shares (which they sold 9 months later). Around the same time, he took a small stake in Avex, then still a private company. To cap it all, News Corp provided funding for TK News, a venture with Tetsuya Komuro, to develop talent in Asia.
This all came out of the blue and caused a rush to map Japan’s media landscape. Later, it transpired that Murdoch hadn’t known what he was doing but we were only a few years from the first internet boom which created another wave of interest, pretty much lasting until today.
July 14, 2010 at 12:01 am
About Anno and Rei—dunno, I might be over-reading it, but I always thought Rei was a kind of insider pastiche/critique. I mean, Evangelion was one of the first anime to have characters that act like human beings, not archetypal, superflat “anime characters”—except Rei (and Kaworu). Rei is presented as a kind of lifeless erotic doll on which you can project anything (in fact the world “doll” is used to describe her relationship with Gendo). This point is driven home by the fact that Rei (and Kaworu) is the only character to have anime hair, anime eyes, and of course being non-human. Shinji, the first otaku to be portrayed in anime, eschews the adult, mature-sexual woman with her all-too-human problems (messy, beer-drinking Misato) favouring instead a perfect submissive livedoll fantasy. It makes me think of Lynch’s Mulholland Drive (where the object-woman fantasy and subject-woman reality are played by the same actress in two parallel narratives).
Next to the end of the series, right before the whole “giant robot space anime” thing is entirely dismissed, Rei actually rejects her “doll” role and finally asserts some personality. Of course, what happened is that otakudom completely ignored the point and objectified Rei even MORE, which seems to be what Azuma discuss. So Anno made End of Evangelion, which is even more critical of otaku. Which caused even greater misuderstanding and widespread criticism like that of Nobuhiro Watsuki (“it was obvious that the people who created it didn’t love the story or the characters […]”—but exactly this love is what Anno’s talking about, and it’s a love whose nature is shown in Shinji’s masturbation scene). At the end of the day the ends of Evangelion disturbs otaku for the same reason Metal Gear Solid 2 disturbs gamers—even if they can’t read the criticism, they have their expectations of a “proper anime” or “proper game” frustrated.
July 14, 2010 at 7:47 am
“Shinji, the first otaku to be portrayed in anime”
Oshii was all over this in the 80s with Megane in Urusei Yatsura. Also – “Otaku no Video”.
“favouring instead a perfect submissive livedoll fantasy.”
This, I think, is reading Eva from 2010 rather than 1995. First up, Asuka becomes Shinji’s “love interest” – and she’s even more self-interested and aggressive than Misato. Second (and there are reams of Anno interviews to back this up) Rei began more as a wounded flower to support Shinji’s martyr/victim self-narrative than an otaku consumption trope. The anime-character fantasy really only comes in the last episode during Shinji’s extended reflection when Rei appears running to school with a piece of toast in her mouth. THIS was the moe archetype in 1995 (and it is still more typical of “chara” now) and Anno put it in, according to Azuma, in reaction to fans taking her in this direction before the series was even a quarter over. The “ghostly pale bandaged waif” did become a 病弱萌 thing later because of Rei.
“where the object-woman fantasy and subject-woman reality”
Asuka is used this way thematically in the 90s film version.
Well, Metal Gear Solid 2 (and FFVII, and Xenogears, etc.) all rip off Eva.
July 14, 2010 at 8:13 pm
Oh, I didn’t want to bring Asuka into this for fear of going even MORE off-topic. Yes, she’s exceedingly human—I’d even risk saying a stab at Jump! ethics; she tries to live like a Jump hero and fails repeatedly. That Shinji ends up with Asuka is one more of these points people ignore. It’s like Rei becomes such a big thing she dominates everything and … … oh.
> Well, Metal Gear Solid 2 (and FFVII, and Xenogears, etc.) all rip off Eva.
We tend to call it a “tribute” around here 8) (but I do think MGS2 is really a notch above FF/Xeno as far as meta-discussion goes, anyway).
July 14, 2010 at 8:40 pm
My feeling is that Anno had Rei as a sort of well-designed MacGuffin (Evangelion is like a cross between “2001”, “Laputa” “Ultraman” and “The 400 Blows” where everyone has a version of the briefcase from “Pulp Fiction”) and the fans ran with her in different directions.
Asuka, however, is supposed to be a real “character” – she learns. I’m not sure that she was supposed to be a JUMP hero for the most part, however. JUMP (aside from Kenshiro and Goku) was always about 努力 and 友情. Asuka is a 努力しない天才 in the beginning (ie. Sunday). She and Shinji do follow the JUMP pattern in the happy episodes between the “Shinji riding around on a train staring at his hand” part of the series and the “OMG lost a leg, charred corpse, Kaji!, EATING the angel, head falls off and classical music” part of the series, you know, the middle part that otaku actually remember. Honestly, that’s probably the best fun anime arc ever – Anno did it so well that all that remained was to do it over and over again until he hung himself at 51 or bring it all down in flames, making it safe to play with again.
“It’s like Rei becomes such a big thing she dominates everything and … … oh.”
It’s funny, but if you’ve followed Eva’s devolution from masterpiece to way of promoting slot machines, I think that Asuka has found a new semi-mainstream popularity with the Yankii crowd.
“but I do think MGS2 is really a notch above FF/Xeno as far as meta-discussion goes, anyway”
July 15, 2010 at 2:14 am
> 努力 and 友情
Yeah, that’s precisely how I saw her. Jump is always about 努力 and 友情 being necessary conditions to achieve 勝利 (a morality that is subtly averted in Death Note, I think, if you read between the lines…). Often in Jump manga you have a “loner genius” character who nonetheless find out even geniuses need comrades and hard work (like Naruto’s Neji). Asuka follows this trajectory, like in the memorable dance episode (which could have come straight from Jump pages)… but then she loses. And she tries even harder, and keeps losing. Then she sinks into depression. (I recall how surprised I was when I first watched this; I was like wtf, there’s something wrong; this wasn’t supposed to happen!). Anno does the same kind of subversion again in the movie, when she goes all Saint Seiya with her mother’s support and appears to wipe out her enemies, and then suddenly loses again. All the 努力 and 友情 only result in 敗戦. Nothing could be further from the usual shōnen trope, but that’s what gives her depth; if she was just spirited and strong-willed, she would just be a regular tsundereish archetype; but through her failures you can feel there’s someone living under the shell.
…Now I’m feeling bad for contributing to the perception that people are only interested in anime and not in the structure of Japanese mass entertainment and whatnot. I’m not an academic grant agency, but FWYW I assure Marxy this work has my deep admiration (and the discussions you guys have in the comments never fail to inflate my Amazon wishlist).
July 15, 2010 at 7:01 am
I’m thinking that the only manga that can really be said to conform to the old JUMP way of doing things is “Once Piece” – Bleach and a lot of other other new ones (Naruto to a certain extent as well) just don’t have a lot of training like they used to. As soon as they started introducing characters like Kenshin (who actually gets less strong after a point and just seems to sit around drinking tea all of the time) it is no longer so easy to talk about the JUMP pattern which is more 80s.
Yeah, Hiei in “Yu Yu Hakusho” is the archetype.
In any case, aside from the dance episode, I don’t see a lot of yujo from Asuka – just a lot of putting Shinji down. The general plot trajectory for her that you outline is okay, but I feel that it gets constantly undermined, rather than done in in one big go. There are really only 2 episodes where she and Shinji are happily cooperating (and one of them has her competitive school angst as a sub plot) and even in those two episodes, she seems to hate Rei just because.
“she goes all Saint Seiya with her mother’s support”
I didn’t really get that vibe. I think that was just supposed to be repeating what Shinji had already experienced (definately not Saint Seiya).
“if she was just spirited and strong-willed”
I think that you also have to consider how flat out cruel she is. The genius characters in JUMP tend to be more “aloof”.
In any case, the general path of the character mirrors Shinji’s in an important way as a look at the consequences of tying one’s identity up with a single thing (which is Anno’s main dig at being an otaku).