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Postscript to Japanese Media Deception

: | February 11,2005

By way of a postscript to my January 25, 2005 posting I bring your attention to new a book on the subject: A Public Betrayed by Takesato Watanabe with Adam Gamble.

Be warned. I have not yet read the book and can not comment on its quality or authenticity. An announcement from the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan includes the following on the book.

“Takesato Watanabe is director of the Center for Media and Communications Research at Doshisha University in Kyoto, Japan.

The authors first describe two aspects of Japanese news media: the daily newspapers, which are dominated by the Japanese press clubs, and the tabloid-style weekly news magazines. Gamble, author of In the Footsteps of Thoreau, and Watanabe show how the press clubs manipulate information presented in the newspapers and then describe in detail the methods used by the newsweeklies to increase sales, including gossip, rumor and sometimes pornography. The remainder of the book examines specific stories in detail, showing how they were treated by the media.”

Migration and Multi-culturalism

: | January 27,2005

Australia is a rare example of a country that has achieved relative success in creating a multicultural society. Some 24% of the labor force is foreign born, many of them in Asia. During the bitter struggle between Serbs, Croats and other ethnic groups following the breakup of the former Yugoslavia, for instance, these ethnic communities in Australia stood above the fray and refused to recreate the divisions and fighting of their homeland on Australian soil.

One reason Australia has been successful is because the country is so young: in one sense every one is a migrant. Another is that the labor governments of the 1980s and early 1990s welcomed multiculturalism. The message from the government was: “You as a migrant are enriching our culture.” By this I do not wish to imply that Australia is free of racism. It is not. It has, however, opened its doors to ethnic groups from around the world and relatively successfully conveyed the message that their cultures are enriching and welcomed.

Japan stands on the brink of a steep and sustained decline in population, which will have wide-reaching effects on its economy and social welfare system. Either young Japanese change present reproduction patterns and lift the birth rate or Japan launches an active and unprejudiced immigration policy. The former is highly unlikely and not yet seen in any other post-industrial country. Sadly, the latter is also unlikely for the following reasons.

Japan is only very slowly emerging from the long-lasting effects of the Tokugawa family shogunate that ruled Japan and closed the country from the rest of the world for over two and a half centuries. It was as recent as 1868 that blood was spilt as outraged samurai groups gathered around the rallying cry of “sonnou joui” (“revere the emperor and expel the barbarians”). The last and reluctant shogun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu, realized the game was up, relinquished power to modernizers and Japan staggered onto the international stage.

Despite the tens of millions of Japanese who have traveled the world since and Japan’selevation to the ranks of the “rich” countries, the country remains deeply conservative, sometimes feudal, in its systems and laws.

Only yesterday (26 January, 2005) the Supreme court of Japan rejected a case brought ten years ago by a Japanese born Korean claiming that the rejection by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government of her application to apply to sit for a test for promotion to a managerial position was unconstitutional. Understandably the woman, Chong Hyang Gyun, was bitterly disappointed. In comments to the press she said that such inequality would eventually become a larger problem if Japan accepts workers to fill an expected labor shortage. What is most galling about this discrimination to Japanese born Koreans is that many of their descendants were forcibly brought to Japan as labor to fuel Japan’s war efforts in China and during World War II.

Let me offer but one of many other possible examples of discrimination. Japan operates a traditional koseki (family register) system that records births, deaths and marriages. Unfortunately the basic legal assumption behind the system is that Japanese nationals only marry other Japanese nationals. This, despite the fact that 10% of marriages in Tokyo today are between a Japanese and a non-Japanese national. The koseki system does not allow a non-national male to be registered as head of the household. In my case, this designation of my Japanese wife as head of our household undoubtedly hones closer to the truth. It does not, however, remove the legal inequality it creates between me and a Japanese national married to either another Japanese national or non-national, in either of which cases the Japanese male is registered as head of the household. I should point out that things have improved slightly. It was not long ago that foreign names were not even allowed in the family registry. We now rate a mention in the column headed biran (“miscellaneous items”).

Allow one more personal anecdote. Before we were to be married, the Ministry of Justice called my Japanese wife-to-be and me in for an interview, the purpose of which was never stated but I assumed was to check whether we were entering into a marriage of convenience. From my point of view, the interview started very poorly with uncomfortably personal questions (Where did you meet your wife? When did you have your first date?). I halted the bureaucrat in his tracks and requested a written list of evidence he would require us to produce. At this point the young man turned to my Japanese wife-to-be and with undisguised scorn snarled: “Do you really want to marry a gaijin (foreigner)?”

Let me return to the issue of immigration policy. As far as I can judge, Japan has attempted so far to conduct an “informal” immigration policy. This allowed thousands of Iranians and others into the country and illegally overstay their visas during Japan’s bubble economy years. When the economy slowed they were rounded up and shown the door. In a more formal, but deceptive, framework, the Japanese instituted a system by which thousands of “trainees”, mainly from South East Asia, were brought to Japan for fixed periods and farmed out as extremely low cost labor to Japanese companies, often without any health insurance coverage or legal redress for maltreatment.

More recently Japan has announced a scheme to bring Filipino nurses to Japan to alleviate it’s nurse shortage. The qualification requirements are quite strict and we must wait and see what it actually produces. Japan has an unfortunate knack for permitting the import of, let’s say mangos, from one or two countries and finding every technical reason for denying entry of the same product from anywhere else. This stems directly from the Japanese bureaucracy’s pathological obsession with control. The code word here is konran, or “confusion.” Allowing entry of goods on their merit would be tantamount to free entry and this could cause “confusion” in the markets. For the Japanese bureaucrat, “orderly” entry (controlled entry from restricted sources) ensures “confusion” does not arise in the market. It is instructive to note that one in ten Japanese (albeit including teachers) is on the government payroll. The control mentality is widespread.

My fear is that Japan’s bureaucrats will attempt to apply this policy of restricted entry to immigration, as it seems they are attempting with Filipino nurses.

Japan is a wonderful country to live and the majority of Japanese are decent, civil, peace-loving people. The country deserves more able, internationally minded politicians and bureaucrats to bring the country into the 21st century and debate this thorny issue of immigration and multiculturalism in a rational, unemotional way. This does not sound like the Japan I know today, which is lurching backwards towards xenophobic posturing and rearmament.(Why don’t the politicians get the message that Japan is no longer a world geopolitical or military player and that it could simply choose to carve out a niche as the Switzerland of Asia and let the big hitters slug it out?)

Japanese Media Deception

: | January 12,2005

My father has a grab bag of aphorisms that he would pull out at appropriate junctures during the education of his children. “No such thing as can’t: won’t” is one that has always stuck.

He was often wont to say, “Don’t believe everything you read in the newspaper.” Sure right about that. Americans have paid the price for the media passivity, and even deafening silence, on the real reasons for going to war in Iraq in the months leading up to that fateful invasion.

In Japan deception by the “major” newspaper media is institutionalized. Journalists from the major daily newspapers are assigned to kisha kurabu (journalists clubs), membership to which is denied to foreign journalists. Political journalists, for instance, operate from the Diet kisha kurabu and “cover” the political “news” of the day. They receive “briefings” from bureaucrats and the Chief Cabinet Secretary. If there is a story involving a particular minister and the night is chilly, they may be invited in by the Minister’s wife or his staff for a bowl of ocha-zuke and some chit chat. Bit like a pet really. Little wonder that the lead stories in the major morning newspapers often resemble term papers authored by one student and reworded by the rest to try to fool the teacher.

Don’t be mislead into thinking, however, that Japanese newspapers are not worth reading. They are repositories of factual information. Many stories on little known countries or regions around the world are accompanied by maps to place them in geographic context. Charts and graphs are often used to summarize the facts. Just don’t look to them for intellectual analysis or controversial reporting on THIS country. Scoops and breaking stories are left up to the “yellow press”, the myriad of weekly news magazines that weave fact with rumor but usually are the first to scent a big story in the making and bring it to print, so that the establishment media can then slide gently into the story without appearing to tread on any political feet.

The Asahi Shimbun, which our household subscribes to, offers a special bonus: a unique children’s version of the newspaper, that summarizes the news in simpler language and provides pronunciation glosses for the more difficult kanji (Chinese characters). This is a major stimulus for children to read regularly. And by the way, Japanese newspapers are still delivered to the door every morning and evening (each paper has both a morning and evening edition). A welcome quainticity.

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A book, a film, some music: manna for mind and soul

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Bons mots et mauvais mots by the famous and not so famous

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