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The Jimusho System: Part Four


Over the previous three installments (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) I have attempted to show that artist management companies — known colloquially as “jimusho” — are the dominant power in the Japanese entertainment industry due to their power to exercise labor control over performers, their organization into larger and secretive keiretsu groups, their ownership of master and publishing rights, as well as probable associations with organized crime. The remaining issue is this, what is the effect of the jimushos’ power on the actual content produced in Japan? And how do the particular business needs of the jimusho change the kind of talent they groom and debut?

The Jimusho Control Who is on TV, Therefore Who is Popular

Terrestrial television (地上波) has been, hands down, the most powerful and influential medium in Japan for introducing new entertainers and performers to the wider public. Stars who appear on variety shows on a constant basis are the ones understood as “popular.” In the case of music, TV has been mostly responsible for directly driving sales. In the Recording Industry Association of Japan’s 2004 music media user survey, the top four “information sources leading to purchase” were network TV programs, TV dramas, TV commercial songs, and TV commercials for music, respectively. In the market’s peak of the 1990s, especially, songs repeatedly heard on TV became hits. While the decline of the music market has changed this to a certain degree, jimusho still greatly depend upon TV stations in order to turn unknown talent into profitable stars.

This seems like it would create a symbiotic relationship between television and management companies, but jimusho retain the decision-making power about which performers appear on which TV programs. This mainly goes back to their ability to leverage access to their most popular stars. Use of established artists becomes conditional on TV station support of new and upcoming ones. This gets to the point where there basically is no “open casting” in Japan and top stars such as Kimura Takuya have shows built around them.

In my own Master’s Thesis research on the effect of jimusho collusion with TV music programs on the Japanese music market, I found that the vast majority of stars appearing on network music programs Music Station, Hey Hey Hey Music Champ, and Utaban came from the top jimusho keiretsu. Competition should be fierce for appearance slots (only 4-6 per week) as the shows have traditionally been the number one driver of sales. But since the TV stations need actors, models, and performers to appear on their other programming, the larger jimusho have an upper hand in placement. This gives them the most leverage in demanding appearances. You can see this clearly in the link between music show guests and the program’s hosts. For Hey Hey Hey Music Champ, comedy jimusho Yoshimoto Kogyo — a company that produced no talent directly for the music industry until the launch of the show — secured 125 artist slots from around 2,000 up until 2004. Now with the power to launch musical talent, Yoshimoto created musical talent. This ended up blocking 125 other artist appearances from companies focused specifically on music.

So overall, in the case of Music Station from 1988 to 2004, the top five jimusho keiretsu (in this case, Johnny’s Jimusho, Burning Productions including Avex and Rising, Up Front Agency, Sony Music Artists, and Nagara Production Group including Being) made up around 50% of all appearances (2692 of total 5212 slots). This generally held true for the other shows as well. In other words, over half of TV appearances are doled out semi-automatically to the most dominant players and a great majority are doled out to the top dozen jimusho groups.

When you then compare these appearance numbers with Oricon yearly chart hits, the number of music show appearances almost perfectly correlates with chart hits. Simply put: The more you are on TV, the more you are likely to have a hit record. And with dominant jimusho having a lock on the few artist appearances available, this means they generally can also control who gets a hit and who does not. And even when a jimusho produces no hits in a year they still receive preferable placements on TV shows than smaller companies with hits. Johnny’s Jimusho acts failed to have a single chart hit in the early 1990s yet continued to appear on Music Station week after week.

Of course artists from non-major jimusho do get hits once in a while, but the constancy of major jimusho acts appearing means that independent artists become essentially “short-term successes” rather than long-term ones. In my data set, I found that when a new artist from a large jimusho got a chart hit, the average number of hits for that artist in the next two years was around 3 — compared to only 1 for an artist from a small independent jimusho. This is likely related to the fact that the large jimusho new artist on average got 8 TV appearances in the next two years after his/her hit, compared to only 1.8 for the small jimusho artist.

The data in my research strongly suggested that control over TV appearances helped major jimusho keep a strong position in the Japanese music market. Although I have not done the same kind of data-based research on other fields, anecdotal evidence strongly suggests that this jimusho dominance carries over to fashion magazine covers, variety show appearances, and other core categories of the mass media. So the question is now, if only a few firms control the Japanese entertainment world, what kind of talent are they choosing to create and debut?

What kind of performers do the jimusho create?

The first thing to remember is that the jimusho create idols and talent rather than just manage successful performers. In other words, jimusho scout unknowns and then “debut” them to the public with a intentionally crafted look, personality, and style. Model Marie was positioned as “model from a rich family” like Paris Hilton, while Nishikawa Ayako is the “cosmetic surgeon talento.” For Yoshimoto Kogyo, the company has been debuting a never-ending list of “one-gag” talent who are given a particular persona and a single joke.

Jimusho also play a big role in the determining the kind of talento that are tolerated in the market. Johnny’s Jimusho has been able to effectively stop any other company from producing boy idol groups. With Johnny’s boycott power in effect, even the major jimusho Rising Pro (now Vision Factory) had a hard time making their acts Da Pump and w-inds big players in market.

The jimusho system is a closed world of small firms, most of which have long-standing position within the entertainment world. In fact, most of the senior people working within today’s management companies helped produce enka singers in the 1960s and 1970s. Enka singers, as documented by Christine Yano in Tears of Longing, have also been openly “crafted” singers rather than self-created. The general industrial structure of the jimusho world — especially the fact that new firms have a hard time entering — means that essentially the same people have been responsible for crafting new stars decade after decade. Japanese pop is often criticized for churning out “generic” idols and pretty faces who act in a certain way, and we can assume that the consistency of personnel behind these idols is a strong factor in the industry’s conservatism. Johnny Kitagawa — age 79 — still plays a hands-on role on the output of Johnny’s Jimusho acts. (Needless to say it’s hard to find a parallel to this in the U.S. market.) AKB48 are incredibly close in nature to ’80s idols Onyanko Club, mostly because they have the same creator Akimoto Yasushi. Despite 25 years of cultural change, basically the exact same people have the keys to the J-Pop kingdom.

Regardless, there is a stronger economic logic at work in the industry’s preference for “created idols” rather than managing more independently-minded stars. Most jimusho handle multi-field performers, ones who are likely to put out music, appear in bikinis on the cover of Weekly Playboy or Shonen Jump, banter on talk shows, and act in the occasional TV drama or film. The fees from these activities can add up to a nice source of income, and in the case of music, a million-seller can be extremely lucrative.

Yet none of these particular activities tops the greatest income stream: corporate/product sponsorship and promotion. Appearing in a single ad campaign for Coca-Cola or 7-11 will guarantee an extremely high source of revenue for the jimusho through a relatively small amount of work. Compare this with the hard-to-obtain music hit: promoting singles takes millions of dollars in marketing to the public. An ad sponsorship, meanwhile, only takes buttering up Dentsu and Hakuhodo and a few key corporate executives. The rate of investment for an ad campaign is much higher than other activities.

This has always been true, but in recent years, the crash of the music market and decline of TV viewership means that jimusho have more reason to pursue advertising work over payment for actual “performance.” In most cases, the actual performance work should be understood as promotion for the star to eventually secure advertising deals; acts usually have to prove popular before becoming a viable spokesperson for a consumer brand. AKB48, for example, are finally reaching peak profitability now as they move beyond their Akihabara theatre and record sales into dozens of product sponsorships. As the jimusho makes almost all the money from the star’s total body of work, rather than just a single field of artistic endeavor, the industry as a result moves towards explicitly commercialized pursuits rather than artistic ones. You can argue that a pop song is also “commercial” but at least the vehicle is melody, harmony, and rhythm — and not a placard upon a vending machine. Culture is not just a body of ads. But the jimusho’s true business goal is creating a body of ads for their performers.

If the ultimate economic goal is a strong line-up of promotional deals, what kind of talent do jimusho prefer? The firms have a clear logical reason to push stars who lack any barriers to becoming national spokespeople for firms. This obviously tilts the balance towards “nice” female idols. And when making a decision among which newcomers to push, the jimusho will not particularly value inherent or learned talent — a strong voice, skillful dancing, acting chops — as these are only indirectly related to the most profitable work. When you have a singer who is only a singer, promotional work can get in the way of their reputation. While plenty of talented performers end up doing ads — Shiina Ringo, Southern All-Stars, even Oyamada Keigo — they are much less likely to do every ad the jimusho requests and may get in trouble with advertising clients for exerting too much personal opinion/attitude into their work. Their appeal is also limited to a smaller audience interested in their body of work rather than their fame itself.

But general “talento” are expected to do this kind of promotional work, and it’s most lucrative for the jimusho to focus on performers who are not too specified. And for the music market, the main TV shows spend as much time interviewing the stars and probing their personalities as actually seeing them perform their songs. The end is result is that the jimusho allow big stars to be poor actors, bad singers, and pathetic dancers, but they can certainly not be controversial, unattractive, or otherwise disruptive. Jimusho face major repercussions when their stars get in trouble for personal scandal — first and foremost because companies have invested massively in using their “clean” image to promote their products. This is why “uncontrollable” talent such as Sawajiri Erika become toxic within the industry. (Although the constant advertising deals of Tsuchiya Anna are a true mystery…) Sakai Noriko’s recent drug scandal seemed tame compared to Hollywood foibles but after years of her corporate sponsorships, there was serious industry reputation at stake. Jimusho supply Japanese corporations with promotional vehicles, and Sakai turned out to be highly defective. Best not to push stars who are likely to generate this kind of business risk.

Even when stars do possess levels of talent, jimusho schedule their activities disproportionately towards promotional work rather than the artistic side of their duties. For example, most TV shows are shot in a “one-take” style as performers do not have time to dedicate their full schedule to the show’s taping. As long as there were no major mistakes, dramas take only one cut of every scene. The business logic is solid here — time should be spent on pursuing promotional work for big companies — but the overall “craft” in Japanese entertainment takes a hit.


So economically-speaking, artist management firms in search of profit pursue advertising deals over performance fees within this particular Japanese industry framework. The end result, however, is that these firms (1) promote “created” idols over self-motivated talent (2) emphasize pleasant looks and demeanor over artistic talent (3) invest most time and resources into lucrative advertising deals rather than creating “culture.”

Every pop culture system focuses on commercialized culture — in other words, crafting pop songs with the greatest chance of broad audience and high sales — but I would argue that the Japanese system, due to jimusho business logic of having performers organized inside companies, goes one step further in direct commercialization (advertising) over creative works (the culture itself).

The missing equation in this, however, is the audience. Japanese consumers have every right to reject this model and demand culture that is “cultural.” There have been times in Japanese history where the public rejects “idols” and its related culture for something more “real.” The most famous was the Band Boom of the late 1980s when Music Station and other standard music shows lost their audiences to live houses around the country. While this was ultimately good for the music market, it was not good for the jimusho system as these bands were less suited towards product promotion than idols. The industry, however, adapted towards the more “real” style to win back the audience, and once they had them back at the same media points (Music Station), they slowly moved the audience back to an idol model in the mid-1990s. There are socio-cultural reasons why the Japanese audience prefers “what is popular” over “what is unpopular but well-crafted” and the jimusho’s control of this system means that they have very strong influence on the long-term state of Japanese cultural tastes.

Yet in the 2010s, as the music market implodes, TV viewership becomes marginal, fashion magazine readership declines, and youth-oriented “popular culture” generally loses its influence among the Japanese psyche, the jimusho are likely to face an existential threat. That being said, small firms are most likely to be first to take a major hit. TV stations will cut budgets on shows, but make up for it with more variety programming — which of course need talent from the large jimusho. Most importantly, the idea of sponsoring products with stars is deeply ingrained within corporate culture in Japan, and whatever its cost, few decision-makers are likely to take the risk of trying a different approach. You can’t get fired for doing a campaign with AKB48 but you may get fired for trying something radically new using Popteen dokusha models. This is why you see Perfume advertise for chuhai alcoholic beverages despite the fact that they are not likely stars who appeal to those drinks’ consumer base.

At least for the next decade the jimusho structure is set, and structural inertia will keep the top jimusho afloat.

W. David MARX
July 26, 2011

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

49 Responses

  1. M-Bone Says:

    I’ve long thought that another reason why drama acting is so crap is that the lines need to be enunciated clearly enough so that granny doesn’t ask to change the channel… Although, in a way, I’m grateful to TV dramas for opening up a ludicrous cultural space for other media to riff off. I can’t imagine an American romcom turning into “Audition” or Uchida Shungiku’s great horror/psychological story “Wide Show”.

    That aside, it is always interesting to consider the structural and profit-making reasons for mediocrity.

    Alan Moore has an interesting ComicCon interview up at Wired in which he argues that American comics stagnated because the majors canned a whole generation of artists and writers for trying to unionize. Instead they hired superhero comic book fans who did safe comic book plots for crap non-union pay and gave up all of the rights to their creations. Moore argues that this reduced the industry to little more than a series of recognizable properties to pimp through Hollywood. People like to blame “the code”, but it could also be argued that economic and anti-competitive reasoning organic to DC and Marvel shut down experimentation.

    The reason why American console games never really got off the ground until the X-box generation (trying to think of a good American game for the NES, I picked “Duck Tales” but wikipedia-ed it and found that it was Japanese!) is that Atari allowed any piece of garbage to be released on their system and destroyed the market. The good developers went over to PC and made very different types of games until those pedigrees merged with the likes of Halo and GTA and now you could argue that Japan lags and does quirky and portable and not bread and butter console hits (Wii aside).

    Why no American Borges or even another Philip Dick? There is enormous pressure with every new fantasy/scifi novel contract that it has to be over 500 pages and (at least) the first volume in a trilogy.

    While this sort of thing happens everywhere, the jimusho do a great job of reviving the classic Japanese Marxist debate of the 1950s – is this late capitalism or a feudal hybrid?

  2. W. David MARX Says:

    Since the jimusho system has basically always been like this with the dawn of Japanese TV, it’s hard to argue that it’s “progressed” towards a late stage capitalist form.

  3. M-Bone Says:

    You could argue that it prefigures neo-liberal monopoly drive. Or that the 1950s counts as late capitalism anyway – that decade being the fall of “hard empire” and the rise of “soft empire”, globalized capitalism in embryo.

  4. Rose Says:

    This was an excellent series – thank you so much. I would love to see even a fraction of it translated into Japanese. Holding the mirror up to the walled garden, as it were.

    Oh, and Tsuchiya Anna – fuck yeah. (Bad girl image means she can get away with a lot more than those “clean” idol types. Plus, since she’s “only” half, the jimusho can always blame any antics on that gaijin blood.)

  5. W. David MARX Says:

    Tsuchiya Anna does ads for washing machines?? That I never really got. Two kids by two fathers by 27 with the first husband dying mysteriously at age 25. That’s actually a pretty normal lifestyle for large parts of Japan, ironically, but usually sponsors don’t like that kind of thing.

  6. zoltan Says:

    So Jimusho earns the most money from sponsorship.

    But how about the merchandise or concert sales? Who does it benefit and does the idol/artiste get a slice of the profits?

  7. ian Says:

    Not sure but my understanding is that the jimusho takes everything and just pays the artists a salary. It’s not as rough a deal as the situation in Korea, but the money is still very much controlled by their agency.

  8. W. David MARX Says:

    Merchandise and concert sales definitely go directly to the agency, who then, as Ian explains, is paid to the idol/artist as a salary. This salary, however, is set by a 1-2 year contract so does not go up variably based on actual income to the agency in the short-term.

  9. zoltan Says:

    Thanks for the info.

    So they screwed concert/merch sales because sponsorship earns the most money with the least effort.
    In the West, concert and merch sales generate a lot more income for everybody involved than sponsorship.

    But I do notice real bands such as 9mm Parabellum and Ling Toshite Sugire topping the charts in Japan. And these guys perform maybe 3 shows on national TV and the rest on Space Shower. And yet, they are successful.

    Is there a parallel economy that is emerging for people who want real talent or good music?

  10. W. David MARX Says:

    There just isn’t the same amount of product sponsorship in the the U.S. As big as Eminem gets he’s not your local spokesperson for 7-11 and Pepsi and sanitary napkins.

  11. M-Bone Says:

    On the issue of salaries and in slight defense of jimusho: since Marxy started this (wonderful) series I’ve been on the lookout for examples of geinojin talking about jimusho on various TV programs and it does happen from time to time, particularly from “owarai” talent. A few have commented that in periods of 3-4 years when they were averaging fewer than one TV appearance a month, the jimusho still kept them on at a solid wage and effectively saved their families. As is noted above, this whole system is pretty old school, and I guess that includes a bit of pre-bubble style corporate welfare. I can imagine that this can seem like salvation for those one gag talents.

  12. zoltan Says:

    To quote TDR, “In Japan, nobody wins so that nobody loses”

    Thanks for the Eminem analogy but my original remains.

    Is there a parallel economy that is emerging for people who want real talent or good music?

  13. W. David MARX Says:

    Not a parallel economy. I think there was one in the 1990s when the music market was at its peak and “normal” girls would meander into Zest and buy vinyl of the newest Escalator Records release. There are plenty of great artists like Shugo Tokumaru but I think they get by on the fringes of the normal market rather than have their own.

  14. W. David MARX Says:

    “In Japan, nobody wins so that nobody loses”

    More like, nobody other than the elites win so that nobody loses. The jimusho make tons of money. The artists sometimes make some when they get really famous.

  15. Lex Says:

    Thanks for the interesting series. And I’d be interested to hear an expansion of this…

    There are socio-cultural reasons why the Japanese audience prefers “what is popular” over “what is unpopular but well-crafted”

  16. M-Bone Says:

    I’m curious – we’ve seen recent reports from all of the major US sports leagues about what percentage of their revenue they share with the athletes. It is 40-60% and I’m sure that the jimusho are at only a fraction of that level. Is there, however, a way to find out how much they take in from all sources compared to how much they pay out to talent? That would be a nice number to hang your overall argument on.

  17. W. David MARX Says:

    I’ve never seen published salaries for celebrities, and I don’t think they would exist. I am sure they are not paid 50% of all their earnings. First, there is no transparency within the company how much they are earning the company. Second, they are not free agents, so can’t leave the company. That would massively suppress wages.

    Most new talent who are on a salary system make about ¥200,000 a month.

  18. W. David MARX Says:

    There are socio-cultural reasons why the Japanese audience prefers “what is popular” over “what is unpopular but well-crafted”

    This is hard because I know it to be true but hard to prove systematically and with data. Would be an amazing thing to have objective proof of though.

  19. zoltan Says:

    About the salary of entertainers, isnt there a list release by the National Tax Agency on this?

    That link is from 2005 but I’m pretty sure i read a newer version.

  20. W. David MARX Says:

    Ah look at that. Awesome.

    Notice that the top entertainer list was almost all men.

  21. Chuckles Says:

    Bravo. Quite possibly your neatest piece of work, Marxy.

    It is however rather interesting that your conclusion suggests a contradiction to your prior line of thought.

    […and cultural inertia will keep the top jimusho afloat…]

    cultural inertia or structural inertia? You have argued a particular structure to this aspect of the Japanese economy in the 4 parts; but now, there is some uniquely culturally Japanese reason for it?

    […the dominant power in the Japanese entertainment industry due to their power to exercise labor control over performers, their organization into larger and secretive keiretsu groups, their ownership of master and publishing rights, as well as probable associations with organized crime…]

    All this speaks of a peculiar sort of social and economic structure – even political. Culture bespeaks elements of thought, speech, language, art, worldview – your previous assessments have not made this argument, nor drawn on millenia of Japanese culture. Unfortunate that your conclusion should stumble on such a gnat.

  22. zoltan Says:

    About the salary earned by entertainers, I can’t find any data newer than 2004/2005 for entertainers.

    But Max Matsuura is number 10 in top executive paid.

    Does that mean Johnny Kitagawa and that guy from Burning Pro are further below the list or they won’t never be on any list of money earned?

  23. W. David MARX Says:

    Chuckles, your comment works best as an edit rather than a point of contention. I absolutely meant “structural inertia” and this was a lazy typo. I will keep our dialogue in here to show that I changed it but will change it in the main text.

  24. M-Bone Says:

    I was thinking about the tax list when I asked the above question (there is one for manga that is always fascinating and they used to run the “entertainer” list in those bilingual Asahi statistical almanacs) – is that information public for Jimusho as well? Of course, looking at the top people doesn’t tell us much overall.

    “There are socio-cultural reasons why the Japanese audience prefers “what is popular” over “what is unpopular but well-crafted””

    This ends up being like a riddle, however. If something well crafted became popular, how can we say that it isn’t popular for being popular and not for being well-crafted?

    Japan has actually done pretty well in terms of its best quality stuff in some media also being among the highest earning – Miyazaki, Kurosawa, etc. “Long sellers” with plenty of shelf space and big sales for new Akutagawa winners are also notable.

  25. M-Bone Says:

    “Culture” isn’t necessarily a bomb in the above quote anyway – “institutional culture” or the “culture of the entertainment industry” essentially means structure anyway.

  26. Tsubasaki Says:

    David you say, “There are plenty of great artists like Shugo Tokumaru but I think they get by on the fringes of the normal market rather than have their own.”

    But honestly, Shugo’s the only person that comes to mind – as a professional I don’t have a ton of time to find new bands, but I’m not totally out in the dark either, yet Tokumaru seems to be Japanese indie music.

    I guess Cibo Matto has reunited, but this site rightly said when reviewing Tokumaru’s Port Entropy that he is, for all intents and purposes, the Japanese indie scene since there is Shibuya-kei has collapsed. There are local indie artists, to be sure, but if you’re thinking about artists like Of Montreal, Freelance Whales, Mumford and Sons in the west, indie bands with enough national appeal to have their own niche, I can’t think of anyone else.

  27. Mulboyne Says:

    You mention that the model of the industry you describe broke down to some extent in the 90s before reasserting itself. If it as as resilient as you say, I wonder why you think it broke down in the first place?

    I’m also interested in the role of television. Again, during that period in the 90s, you mention how the jimusho acts continued to dominate music shows but failed to register as many hits. Doesn’t that suggest consumers have not always been guided by the line-ups on music shows?

    I would agree that Eminem is not the face of Pepsi but Michael Jackson certainly was. In some ways, Japan was ahead of the game in tying music so closely to commercial concerns. Bands in the West now fall over themselves to get corporate sponsorship for tours and place their music in film, TV shows & ads. REM turning down Microsoft for their Windows 95 launch, who then went with the Rolling Stones, now looks like something of a watershed moment. It’s just about the last time a major signed act rejected that kind of deal.

    There’s still an ambivalence in the west. For instance, Adele recently said she thinks Duffy’s cheesy Diet Coke ad, featuring her cycling around a supermarket, stalled her career.

    Going back to television, if you do see it as central to the jimusho-controlled entertainment business, do you not think that falling audiences for TV shows will mean that the jimusho position might not be so secure to see out another 10 years?

    The threat I see for the jimusho system is not that it fails musically, but that it no longer delivers the goods commercially. The increased commercialization of the music business in the West has shown up just how small the cake is in Japan.

    On top of that, the jimusho system doesn’t even do its old job very well these days. Their acts don’t bring viewers to TV which lowers their value in promotional work. The rise of social media has also meant it’s much harder to control the image of their acts. If somebody had used their phone to take a picture of Kusanagi running naked in a Roppongi park, it would be interesting to wonder how easily he would have been rehabilitated.

  28. M-Bone Says:

    “The increased commercialization of the music business in the West has shown up just how small the cake is in Japan.”

    I’m not sure if I found the right stats here (as other things could be included in “stage”) and the numbers are for 2008, but it seems as though the US “live music / concert revenue” in 2008 was 9.1 billion.

    In Japan “music” and “stage” (as this is live entertainment, I take it that this is revenue for live music) come out to about 3.5 billion US – which is very close to being the same per capita.

    Japan’s numbers seem to be increasing year by year at a solid pace (although 2008 is a dodgy place to cut this off, I could not find new figures). This certainly seems good for the industry.

    It could be that Japan is moving along with the global trend away from album sales as the main source of revenue and toward increasing concert revenue (although things seem to be on a downswing since 2010 in both Japan and the US).

    Also, it might be fun to think about the advertising issue in terms of the lens-less glasses fashion insight from the last piece. Doesn’t Eminem need to act like he is way too “real” for Pepsi? Would’t doing ads break the fiction that he’s doing much other than riding along with a production machine that farms out the kind of music that middle class 13 year old suburban white kids want to hear? While I’m not sure if he actually got it himself, I was quite entertained to see Dr. Dre actually designing 50 Cent in a laboratory in one of his early videos.

    I also have to wonder about the “cultural economy” behind the regulation-laden US model and the mob-tied backroom handshake talent-robbing Japanese one. The US certainly has no end of corrosive neo-liberal examples (BP, Blackwater, the subprime lenders) where oversight failed in a big way. Why has the record industry been better? Was it that it was so obviously mobbed up (and Catholic / minority mobbed up) in a time of rapid social change that things were done? Alternatively, it could be that labels went along with regulatoin and thus overpay (compared to what they could get away with) talent because it is part of brand building. Just like huge deals for athletes act like free advertising for the team and help to create “stars”, perhaps the private jets and $3,000,000 engagement rings of the music upper crust actually helps to generate business-side revenue in the end?

    In Japan, it seems as though ostentatious spending among entertainers is only tolerated in old men (and when rich women appear, it is generally as ghouls like Debi Fujin… although she is only fake rich). Maybe talking about spending millions on cars and buying 11 bottles of Don Peri every Friday could have done more damage to a person like Kusanagi’s marketability than a little naked outing. Do Americans want their stars rich and Japanese their stars ordinary? This could be two different logics of capitalism at work.

  29. Mulboyne Says:

    When I was speaking about the cake in Japan, I wasn’t talking about recorded music sales and ticket sales, where Japan has always been significant. Instead, I was taking about the size, and impact, of the commercial deals which have always been part of the industry in Japan but are now also a major characteristic in the West.

    As David points out, Japanese corporates have generally been guided by Dentsu et al in drawing up campaigns but it has dawned on more than a few companies that they aren’t really getting the same bang for their buck these days. I don’t think this means they are about to ditch the tried-and-tested any time soon but they have responded by cutting budgets. That’s bad news for the industry and there’s nothing like declining profits and revenues to prompt further re-evaluation by all parties.

  30. M-Bone Says:

    My mistake. I had been waiting for an excuse to look into the Japanese concert scene numbers anyway….

  31. M Santaka Says:

    That actually makes sense. Popular Japanese music nowadays are more focused on single acts and boy/girl bands. No next-gen Lunasea or X-Japan or whatnot.

  32. Tilman Says:

    Thank you for this series. It is topics like this one, introduced in a detailed way, which makes Neojaponisme truly stand out.

    That being said, I sense a bit of, well, delusion about the state of the entertainment industry in Europe or the US. In mainstream music, comedy, even art, haven’t we also got a kind of “Jimusho” system of huge corporations (Viacom, Bertelsmann, Endemol etc.) controlling where and how their talent is presented? It may be that in the western world, the organization of these markets is less perfect (or should I say less Japanese), so it might not look as commercialized, but the intention of the major players is definitely along the same lines. Look at all those show concepts that were created by Endemol – Star Search, Model Search, Talent Search, for instance. If you win Heidi Klum’s model search contest, you are obliged to enter into a marketing contract with Heidi’s father’s model agency, and he’ll book you wherever he thinks he can make the most money. When you are not playing along, a media campaign will be mounted in no time to destroy you and you’ll be dead for all other agencies, too. (It currently is happening in Germany with the latest girl winning Heidi Klum’s model contest).

    Then there’s the well known connection between the American entertainment industry and the mob. Same as Johnny’s likely connections to the Yakuza.

    If you look at the mainstream (where the big money is to be made), Japan’s Jimusho system is not special. Rather, as with many things, the Japanese took a concept from the western world and improved and perfected it.

    I don’t see a huge gap between Japan’s subcultural scene and that of the west. If you’re looking for interesting, well-made culture in Japan, I would argue that it would be as easy (or hard) to do as in the west.

  33. Chuckles Says:

    I think Marxy, in the 4 parts has given a reasonable enough defence of why the entertainment industry in the West differs from Japan – even in spite of the analogous structural features Tilman mentions above.

    I dunno if I was trying to say Marxy bombed there (is stumbling equivalent to bombing?), but in the last two paragraphs leading to the conclusion he used “culture” and “sociocultural” in a sense that applied to the wider Japanese public / society – is *that* the inertia that keeps the Jimusho afloat or is it the resistance to change / persistent continutity in the industry itself?

  34. W. David MARX Says:

    Currently away from a computer but I can explain in a follow-up post how the American system is different. Iactually didquantative analysis and found way more new artist entry in the US when compared to Japan.Also evenifa record label in the US has 20% of themarket, its spread over dozens of sublabels and imprints and does not represent a single genre. Compare that to Johnny’s which has pumped out identical music for nearly 4 decades.When they control 10% of the market they really control tastes of pop music

  35. M-Bone Says:

    Chuckles – yeah, the next to last and last paragraphs are doing different things. All cleared up now anyway.

    In defense of the US system – even something as plainly awful and ridiculous as Justin Bieber seems to have actually started up with him pretending to sing in his bedroom and posting the stuff on Youtube. In Japan, he would either be a Jimusho act or working at a family restaurant somewhere.

    Not that there is much of a qualitative difference in the end result of the two systems in a case like Bieber, however….

  36. Tilman Says:

    @chuckles The series was great as a primer on how things work in Japan. But I still question the Jimusho system being in any way different from how the mainstream entertainment market is organized in the West. Saying “in spite of the analogous structural features” misses the point that this is all about structures – nothing else. Of course, a guy like Jimmy is more of a character than the CEO of Viacom, which adds to the “family business” image of a Jimusho, but whether the structures in place to hire and bind successful performers are “more fair to the artist” or “encouraging true art” in the west is highly disputable. Again, I sense a desire to construct an “Otherness” from merely aesthetical differences.

  37. M-Bone Says:

    Tilman, there are indeed similarities, but does one hear about dozens of the most popular acts in the US making nothing from CD sales? I don’t mean “nothing” as in “a pittance”, I means “nothing” as in “zero”. How many hundreds of millions of dollars would each SMAP member had made if they occupied a similar place in US popular culture? Debating whether this is unique to Japanese culture or unique to a specific institutional formation really doesn’t change the fact that it is a significant difference.

    I speculated above as to whether the higher pay for American entertainers is due to them being thrown a bone by the system to keep them in furs and jewels to increase their brand power. Nobody is arguing that Euro-American capitalism is more pleasant or altruistic but for whatever reason they don’t end up taking virtually all of the money from the talent like their Japanese counterparts.

  38. Anymouse Says:

    Very true, and that may have much to do with the desires and interests of the market, which is founded upon it’s demographics. Here even the girl pop singers have a tendency to aim in the direction of Madonna. The Burikko style has never been big here. In Japan on the other hand, there has never been an inner city subculture that was distinct enough to produce hip hop.
    We wanted to see people like us becoming rich, Japan wanted to see the ordinary person get popular. The artists don’t need a good paycheck to be popular. They do need a good paycheck to be rich. A major exception was the Supremes, so you can’t say that all American entertainment is only one way, or all Japanese entertainment is only an-other way. However, I think the exceptions prove the rule. Japanese popular culture is not identical to the American, although this is not to say that one is better than the other, as M-Bone points out.

  39. M-Bone Says:

    The American comparison here is an obvious one but there are three points – global reach, the movement of talent and capital in the broader Anglosphere, and ethnic diversity – that Japan doesn’t have on anything close to the same level. It might be more interesting to compare Japan and France, Germany or Italy. East Asian comparisons are not as useful as those industries were influenced by Japan’s.

    I don’t know much about the international music business but for fight sports, Germany and Japan look a lot alike – carefully chosen foreign challengers brought in to lose (and with rematch clauses) and promoters keeping more than Don King ever did. Very little money in the sport compared to the US, but a much bigger TV presence in both Japan and Germany.

  40. L Says:

    Well, Eminem is the face of Brisk ice tea, by the way…

    This was a very interesting series. As a comedy nerd I think Bakushou Mondai are interesting because they were put out to dry after they broke from Yoshimoto (I think) to form their own jimusho with Oota’s wife, but they managed to make a big comeback and are still quite successful…

  41. M-Bone Says:

    “Well, Eminem is the face of Brisk ice tea, by the way…”

    Good point, but isn’t he only shilling for them as an animated character? I think this makes a difference.

  42. Tilman Says:

    @Anymouse “In Japan on the other hand, there has never been an inner city subculture that was distinct enough to produce hip hop.”

    You say that like it’s a bad thing ;-)

  43. Anymouse Says:

    Not necessarily bad, just different. I myself have to say I actually prefer the Onyanko club to Sir Mix a Lot, but the best music is definitely Gary Numans first three albums. And David Marx, of course.

  44. W. David MARX Says:

    I think Japan and the U.S. are perfectly acceptable for comparisons as they are the largest two markets and the only two major markets that produce most of their own music. Germany, for example, mostly imports their music. Japan and the U.S. usually have imports at somewhere between 10-20% of the market.

  45. M-Bone Says:

    The US imports a lot of talent, however. Does Justin Bieber count as an import? What about U2 (who certainly get filed amid the domestic rock) or Radiohead? Cieline Dion (who started as a French-language singer and started a bidding war among American companies)? With so many leading / high selling / influential bands on the US cultural landscape launching abroad – which of course encourages business tie-ups and whatnot – I doubt a closely bound system like Japan’s would be possible nor would a single channel for “talent cultivation”.

    Competition by labels for foreign, especially UK talent (if there had been another Japanese-speaking country somewhere that produced the Beatles, Stones, Zeppelin, The Who, Pink Floyd, Sex Pistols, etc. how different could things be?) makes for a different dynamic. Ditto the East Coast / West Coast thing, which also has no equivalent in Japan.

  46. Anymouse Says:

    I would say that Celeine Dion could should be called an import. People from another English speaking Country have a Much lower barrier to entry, and could probably be called domestic. After all, we are the former colonies.

    Bieber’s the Kid from (North) America.

  47. M-Bone Says:

    I’m pretty sure that everything I mentioned counts as domestic in terms of sales – it doesn’t matter where you are from, it matters where your label is based, I imagine. It is pretty telling that I just looked at half a dozen articles about American music sales and none of them mentioned domestic vs. import.

    Dion worked hard to sign with a US label so I guess she is domestic as well.

  48. zoltan Says:

    Hmm, I guess the difference between the US and Japan music industry can be boiled down to 2 points (for me).

    1. In the US, nobody shuts up. Sooner or later the temptation to tell it all cannot be bottled down.

    2. In Japan, people shut up even when they get screwed over. Ami Suzuki never did say anything about her previous troubles after she signed with Avex (Burning Pro).

  49. Fukai Says:

    This was a really interesting read.
    Thanks a lot for writing it.

    I was wondering about the Johnnys keiretsu. I’m not a business major so I’m not really versed in corporate structures. As far as I understood keiretsu are business groups, often with interlocking ownership, which can be horizontally or vertically structured.. or both.
    Horizontal keiretsu center on a main bank and their companies span various industries, while Vertical keiretsu center on a major manufacturer and include its various suppliers and wholesalers.

    So I guess the vertical keiretsu applies to geinô jimusho.
    Johnnys Jimusho has a lot of subsidiaries like Johnnys Entertainment, J-Storm, Young Communication, Johnnys Shuppan, Concert Jimukyoku, Yunizon and so on. But I was wondering if you can speak of keiretsu in the Burning sense.. since those aren’t other small jimushos who answer to the head company (like Burning), but subsidiaries in other industry fields like music distribution, publishing, PR, event marketing, fanclub management, mobile content production, merchandising and so on, who help to market the talents of Johnnys Jimusho.

    Also, it isn’t as secretive as Burning when it comes to its subsidiaries. Most of the time the daihyô torishimariyaku (代表取締役) is someone from the Kitagawa/Fujishima-family which makes it rather easy to see the connection.

    So does the keiretsu structure really have any significance in the case of Johnnys Jimusho? All talents are managed by the head company.. this makes it a rather “big” jimusho with some 200+ talents.
    Sorry if this is a dumb question.

    And do you by chance know how many artist slots in Music Station are reserved for Johnny talents?