Nemutan’s revenge – some fact-checking and reaction to the NYT story on anime fetishists

The New York Times has an article in its Sunday magazine section by Tokyo Mango author Lisa Katayama about a “thriving subculture” of men who prefer “2D women” to real women, sometimes engaging in serious relationships with anime characters. On the website, the story is billed under the tagline “Phenomenon” which would give readers the impression that this sort of thing is common in Japan.

Seeing as it comes from America’s most prestigious and influential news outlet, the article has already been widely read (see here for a Japanese translation of a Korean-language summary), and reactions have ranged from uncritical acceptance of the reporting (wtf is wrong with Japan?!) to absolute incredulity (she just ripped off an Internet meme and borrowed from WaiWai so this “phenomenon” is completely overblown and is an example of the NYT exploiting Japan for cheap thrills).

Responding to the reaction, Katayama said on Twitter, “imho, responses to my 2D article reflect readers’ biases + issues more than the offbeat situation of story subjects.” So at the risk of revealing my biases plus issues, I am going to respond to this article.

But before I get to my overall thoughts, I want to point out what appear to be two small but important factual errors. While the article focuses on profiling individuals who are either examples of the “2D love” phenomenon or who promote the concept, at one point she cites some government statistics to bolster her claim that there is indeed a thriving subculture of men who literally think a pillow is their girlfriend:

According to many who study the phenomenon, the rise of 2-D love can be attributed in part to the difficulty many young Japanese have in navigating modern romantic life. According to a government survey, more than a quarter of men and women between the ages of 30 and 34 are virgins; 50 percent of men and women in Japan do not have friends of the opposite sex.

 After I asked the author via Twitter where she got the numbers, she helpfully directed readers to “the gov’t agency that monitors population and social security” which in proper noun terms means the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research.

So I looked around to find where she might have gotten the information. The results? I could find nothing to credibly back up either of those statements, but there are survey results that show similar but critically different results. Let’s take them one by one.

Friends of the opposite sex

First, the good news – there is rough statistical backing for the claim “50 percent of men and women in Japan do not have friends of the opposite sex.” A 2004 study “The Japanese Youth” conducted by the Cabinet Office shows that only 43.7% of Japanese youth aged 18-24 reported having friends of the opposite sex.

The only relevant figures from the population institute I could find were from its most recent survey from 2005, which state that around half of unmarried men and women are not currently dating anyone of the opposite sex as friends, as a serious boyfriend/girlfriend, or as a fiance.

Still, both figures are much different from saying that half of all Japanese people have no friends of the opposite sex. As kids grow up they are much more likely to have platonic friends, though it’s true that this is less common than in the US. But that in no way backs up the argument that men and women are isolated in Japan. And as for the stat on single people dating, it really is a coin flip whether a person surveyed will be dating someone or not at the time. And it’s completely irrelevant to the “2D Love” story.

Are a quarter of Japanese 30-34 year-olds virgins? No way.

Now let me repeat the other claim: “According to a government survey, more than a quarter of men and women between the ages of 30 and 34 are virgins.”

Think about those numbers for a minute – if true they would be staggering news and quite possibly a major cause of Japan’s demographic problem. Yet in all I have read about the topic this article marked the first time I have ever seen that claim made. (Mostly it’s attributed to long life expectancies and low birth rates caused by late marriage, quality of life factors, etc.). 

It turns out that the real statistic from population institute states that around 25% of unmarried 30-34 year olds are virgins. It doesn’t say anything about the population as a whole. Note that a separate survey finds that around two thirds of men and women have lost their virginity by the time they are in university, so I find it very hard to believe that another 15% or so won’t have met someone special in the intervening 10 years.

I’ll admit that I have not scoured the entire Internet, so there may be a survey that I just didn’t come across. So to give her the benefit of the doubt, let’s see if this claim is even close to realistic. According to the institute’s 2005 survey (PDF in English, page 15), single people with no kids aged 30-34 (defined as one-person private households) make up 34% of all households in the age group.  On the other end, 54% of private households whose head of household is in that age bracket are married. That means in order for more than one quarter of all Japanese adults aged 30-34 to be virgins, one of the following must be true:  either a) almost all unmarried people at that age are virgins (and we already know that’s wrong); or b) even a good portion of married people fail to consummate their marriages several years into their lives together. And that I am afraid is next to unfathomable.

The WaiWai Connection?

So what happened? Some have accused the author of using the notorious WaiWai as a source. WaiWai is a discontinued feature of Japanese national daily Mainichi Shimbun’s website that specialized in creative translations of Japanese tabloid articles. It was taken down in 2008 after angry Japanese internet users discovered it and found scores of misleading, exaggerated, and false stories depicting Japan as a perverted and even deranged society.  

Katayama has claimed that the government reports were her sources and specifically denied using WaiWai. But thanks to James at JapanProbe, I have found the following June 2007 article that contains a passage very similar to one claim made in the NYT story: 

 The Japan Cherry Boy Association is facing a crisis after the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research revealed that almost one in four Japanese men aged 30 to 34 remains a virgin, according to Weekly Playboy (7/2).

Obviously I wasn’t there when she wrote the story, so I can’t tell where that number came from. But it could easily have come from this source as it makes the same mistake of omitting the key fact that the survey in question only covered unmarried men and women.

Getting facts like this wrong can lead to some unfortunate consequences. Already, the Korean daily Joong Ang Ilbo has posted a summary translation of the article in Japanese (and presumably Korean), complete with a verbatim repetition of the claim “more than a quarter of men and women between the ages of 30 and 34 are virgins.” Without a correction, this idea is likely to spread and might end up becoming a commonly cited myth about Japan, much like the similarly unrealistic but widespread claim that over 90% of Japanese women in their 20s own a Louis Vuitton handbag.

Without these numbers, the background for this story becomes somewhat undermined. While the isolation between men and women in this country is commonly cited by both foreign and Japanese observers, this gap tends to be reflected in the different ways adult men and women spend their time, particularly married couples. For some fascinating anecdotes on the gulf that opens up between housewives who never leave their neighborhoods and their husbands who never leave the office, read this fascinating interview with author Sumie Kawakami.

 

Overall thoughts

Aside from the statistics issues, I think Katayama and NYT did readers a disservice by making Nisan the focus of the story, because that turns the real story on its head.

Yes, there is a subsection of otaku who are unapologetic about their dedication to anime porn and proudly wear their virginity on their sleeves. But it’s a stretch to characterize all moe anime fans as walking a blurred line between normalcy and 2-D Love, and it’s even more of a stretch to equate all 2-D Lovers with Nisan, who is clearly in a class by himself. It would have been much fairer to start with the Okayama character. He is a collector of body pillows but isn’t public about it, which is far closer to the typical consumption pattern for these products, though even he is on the extreme side. Most American men have seen porn, but you know you’ve lost your way if you buy one of those fake rubber vaginas. In Japan, most men are probably more like economic commentator Takuro Morinaga who grew up on a diet of anime and maybe even dabbled in some “2D Love” content but never made the plunge into Nisan territory (btw, Morinaga is not one of “Japan’s leading behavioral economists.” He teaches at Dokkyo University but only has his bachelor’s and is best known as a populist TV pundit who commonly makes no sense).

It’s also important to note that since at least Evangelion in the late 1990s there’s been an element of eroticism present in most popular animated series aimed at teenagers and adults, and in general sexual content in manga and anime is much more common and accepted in Japan than it would be in the US. So most otaku may in fact own things Americans might consider erotica such as sexually explicit manga or suggestive figurines (not exactly 2D), but that does not make them Nisan- or Okayama-style 2D Lovers nor even place them outside the mainstream. The US and Japan also have the first and second largest live-action pornography industries in the world, so I think that makes both populations rabid 2D Lovers in their own ways. The key difference is the preference in Japan for underage girls (both real-life and 2-D) as objects of desire, a topic that’s not discussed in the article but deserves its own investigation.

To the extent that 2D love is a real phenomenon, it is driven by pop culture and consumption preferences led by people like Toru Honda and Momo who have books and pillowcases to sell. The market for this stuff is a relatively small niche of the overall otaku market, and I don’t see much of a serious ethos that goes far beyond a kind of brand loyalty (but please by all means prove me wrong; you could say the same thing about NASCAR fans but no one doubts NASCAR’s importance and influence on the identity of certain subsections of the US). And yes, the erotic body pillows are a popular accessory among that demographic. But Nisan and the few people who have an abnormal attachment to their pillows are merely the extreme example of what is largely a story of private porn consumption. And while I have never met or spoken with Nisan, how much do you want to bet he carries his pillow around either as an elaborate joke or to prove his otaku street cred? The whole idea of a proud life-long virgin has the air of a joke about it, and you can read any 2-channel thread on the topic to get an idea of how common it is for people to riff on this meme.

I want to be clear that I am not necessarily against this type of reporting. Far from it, I would say that all weird stuff everywhere should be documented and presented to the world. It’s an amazing world out there with countless stories waiting to be told. Lisa Katayama wrote an interesting story in her field of specialty, so I don’t hold it against her for publishing this article or trying to entertain by finding interesting aspects of Japan to present to the world. And as someone who loves to dig through government reports, I hereby offer that the next time she wants to write a story she is more than welcome to enlist my help if she wants to know what government studies are actually saying about Japan. It’s just in this case she got a couple of facts wrong and mischaracterized what I see as the real situation.

To be honest, if I didn’t notice the potentially groundbreaking statistics, I don’t think I would have bothered to write about this story. The “weird Japan” theme in the English-language media is what it is – viewed from the outside a lot of what happens in Japan does seem odd. And the New York Times is in the business of presenting the world to Americans in an entertaining and digestible manner. Producing stories that cast Japan as a backward country that got modernization wrong lets the readers feel better about their own country and confirm the basic rightness of the American dedication to social progress. But Japan is interesting enough without having to resort to exaggeration.

(Thanks to James at Japan Probe for help with some of the research in this post)

  1. Excellent reporting by you and James.

    I had similar reactions to the Katayama piece- you’ve encapsulated my thoughts much better than I would have done so (and challenged some of her stats as well to boot!)

  2. Great post. I’d hope that everyone who read the NYT Mag piece would eventually find his way here, too, but that’s sort of a foolish thing to hope for.

  3. But it is true, over 90% of Japanese women in their 20s that I know own a Louis Vuitton handbag. ;) No, honestly!

  4. If in fact WaiWai is involved either directly or indirectly, this is a perfect example of why we should be celebrating its death. For years it was a source of misinformation and baseless claims given the veneer of respectability thanks to the Mainichi brand. We appear to be still experiencing its aftershocks.

  5. Simply an excellent job on this Adamu.

    Katayama is taking a part (insane virgins) of a sub-section (Moe) of a sub-group (hardcore otaku) of a sub-culture (anime fans) and turning it into a phenomenon. There are no doubt some NYT readers who now think that a 37 year old Japanese guy who went to Ponyo with his 3 kids is a virgin.

    I’ve seen reports that there are about 700,000 Japanese who buy more than two volumes of manga a week which I think is a good criteria for identifying people who are into it. While I don’t have any evidence, I would guess that half are under 18 and half are women. My gut feeling is that out of approx. 200,000 hardcore 2D adult otaku, maybe 10% are truly odd fetishists. While there have been a few ertoic games that have sold a lot (mainly because of cross media blitz of non-pornographic materials like what has been done for FateStayNight and Air – novels, non porno games, anime tie-ins, manga, etc.) the average is less than 10,000 copies, probably no bigger than the [insert odd porn type here] market in the US. Rare is the ero-manga tankobon that sells more than 1000 copies in its first week (and there is typically a 50% plus falloff for the second). Dakimakura – probably a fraction of that.

    This type of reporting is fine. The problem is when reproters who should be saying “I’m bringing your a bit of esoterica, wink” are saying something to the effect that “This is a defining social trend.”

    I’d also be a lot more sympathetic to the whole thing is Katayama hadn’t combined cotton candy journalism with statistical havoc and attacked her audience with “responses to my 2D article reflect readers’ biases + issues”. Sheesh.

  6. I’ve been about as skeptical of the potential of the blogosphere  + twittersphere as of the MSM. Until, that is, I read blogs like this! The next time you might do an advice column for bloggers, include this as a template for how to deconstruct an article.

  7. Consider the source. It really surprises me that she doesn’t get taken to task more often. This is the same person who wrote this:

    http://www.tokyomango.com/tokyo_mango/2009/03/high-school-girl-forced-to-wear-maid-costume-by-teacher.html

    Her writing is mostly shallow re-reporting and contains multiple instances of factual errors and mistakes of terminology. Her stock in trade is uncritically reinforcing people’s preconceptions about Japan while selling herself as a sex object.

  8. Great fact-check on a very, very suspect article. Its a sad commentary that The New York Times cannot do this kind of editorial fact-checking on its own—-circulation must really be down and these kind of pieces must sell papers.

  9. One of the best posts this year. I am amazed how you find the time to do all that.

  10. Don,

    Thanks for that link!

    Looks like I am not the only one who wondered about the government statistics:

    特に、

    “政府調査によると、30~34歳までの男女の4分の1以上が童貞(または処女)だ。そして日本の男女の50%には異性の友達がいない。 ”

    こことか「本当かよ」と言いたくなりますが、どうなんでしょうね。

  11. Nice article. It’s nice to see people do real fact finding, which is why I keep coming back here. Also, kudos for not going into all out knee-jerk attack the media mode like a lot of people might be inclined.

  12. fh:

    Wait a minute, that’s just her personal blog that hopefully no one takes too seriously. I wouldnt hold that to the same standards as NYT, which literally has the power to shape how people view the world (check the article’s comments section to see how this is true). I do plenty of re-reporting and attention-whoring here at MFT, so if that’s wrong I dont wanna be right. The juxtaposition of a sexual harassment story and a yummy caramel latte is a little jarring though.

    G.:

    I am sure there is some fancy journalistic jargon for the section of a human interest piece that lays out the statistical background behind the story. Wouldn’t that be the part that’s both the easiest and most important to check out?

  13. Man, so that translation site lets us know that the Nisan guy is himself a semi-popular blogger!

    http://blogs.dion.ne.jp/love_nemu/

    This adds a whole other dimension to the story as the entire blog is dedicated to his love of Nemutan…

    That means it’s just as likely that Nisan uses Nemutan to get attention at his blog as it is a story of “the difficulty many young Japanese have in navigating modern romantic life” as Katayama indicated.

    It reminds me of the recent J Smooth video about the death of Michael Jackson. More and more people are basing their lives around the feedback they receive from creating media about themselves:

  14. “check the article’s comments section to see how this is true”

    Wow. People are not just using this as a basis for Japan interpretation, but also “this is where our postindustrial consumer society is headed” types of stuff.

    This is an interesting problem for me in a professional sense – I’ve had students use WaiWai stuff in papers before and have been careful to lecture them “Always be critical of online sources. You are probably better off not using it unless it is something like the New York Times.”

  15. “but you know you’ve lost your way…” made me laugh.

    I always wonder why it isn’t enough to highlight extreme examples without turning into a “pheonomenon”. Even if Nisan is one in a million (or 125m) isn’t that good enough article fodder? Find Nisan’s equivalent in the US and compare the two—more interesting and less room for statistical error.

    My other question is why is it never guys like you and Neojaponisme getting paid to write this stuff in the first place (with correct facts/stats)? I’d be hesitant writing about another culture whose language I didn’t read but NYT seems to specialize in that when it comes to Japan…

  16. Finally someone stands up for the truth and takes some effort to correct these exaggerated statements.

  17. Nisan is on Twitter as @love_nemu, if you need someone new to follow. His July 23 and 24 posts are classic, assuming they’re in response to the article going up.

  18. At first glance his blog isn’t selling anything, but then neither is mine. I don’t think he is a corporate-sponsored shill or up and coming fashion designer.

  19. @Durf

    She ruined his life!

    兄さんのライフはもうゼロよ(つд`)
    11:42 PM Jul 24th from web
    Web掲載とか聞いてないよ(つд`)
    9:55 PM Jul 23rd from web

    Though he seems to have recovered from it over the weekend…

  20. I think you’re being a little too generous. Yes it’s her personal blog, but one which she uses to sell her brand as a writer. It’s also indicative of the same kind of problems that her NYT piece suffers from, so it seems relevant to the issue at hand. Acting like there’s no difference between cosplay and maid fetishism and belittling a claim of sexual harassment in the process may be convenient to her presentation of Japan as otaku wonderland and charming oddity, but it doesn’t indicate a very sophisticated understanding of the subject matter. If you can show me places where she consistently works at a higher level in her dual life as a serious journalist, I might agree with your contention that her blog-life is irrelevant.

    There’s nothing wrong with re-reporting per se, but if it’s all you ever see from someone it’s a pretty strong indication that they’re not very serious about what they do. But then, I don’t actually expect much better from the NYT, regardless of how seriously most people take it, so for me the fact that they sullied their august brand with poor journalism isn’t really the scandal here. Every story is only as good as its reporter.

  21. “But Japan is interesting enough without having to resort to exaggeration.”

    We should build a media alliance around this mantra.

  22. “to self-promote”

    I mean he wants to “be a star”.

    The common point between the two NYT bits in my mind is not that the subjects are similar, but that the reporters got duped into thinking that they had something with “big” social significance going by sources who were trying to get their 15 minutes. I’d like to think that they got caught up going for big stories, not that they were dishonest about context.

  23. Looks like you are right about the stats, but I wouldn’t be too hard on Katayama. It may well have been an honest mistake. All journalists and bloggers make mistakes. That’s why newspapers have editors and hopefully fact-checkers – who were obviously asleep on the job this time. Having said that, I doubt that even in the newspaper’s cash-richest heyday they would have had the time/money to devote to looking into a single stat as you have here.

    The other thing I’d point out is that there is a big difference between a stat being used to deliberately mislead, and just being used wrongly. The point she was trying to make is basically right, isn’t it? I’ve read of loads of surveys that report Japanese people have far less sex than people in other countries (and not in Waiwai). And its not unlikely that this kind of otaku sexual escapism has a connection with that.

    Perhaps some of the people who object so viscerally to Katayama’s article (and I don’t mean you) are upset at having their own orientalist fantasties of erotic Japan spoiled? Good on Katayama for revealing the rather unsexy truth in the NYT.

  24. “So if Nisan is pushing the crazy 2D angle to self-promote, this whole thing is the 2009 version of

    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/20/world/asia/20japan.html?_r=1&hp”

    And that’s what’s so frustrating about both of these articles. There would still be a very good story in both cases if they had been reported in what I think most of us here would interpret as the correct way: i.e. focusing on a single very very exceptional borderline case as an entry point to discussion of broader issues. I don’t actually think Katayama did a terrible job in that regard, aside from the possible factual errors that Adam pointed out, but I do believe that she implied the borderline case to be far more common than it actually is.

    As for the infamous vending machine disguise article, it would have been a perfectly good piece if Fackler accurately portrayed it as an artistic work intended to provoke conversation about public safety issues, and then participated in that conversation by introducing it to an American (and global) audience. Instead he portrayed the urban camouflage costumes as a serious product, producing derision.

  25. I don’t think messing up the stats is in and of itself a fatal error, and hopefully now that Adam has made this post, I hope the NYT will sic a fact checker on it and issue a correction to the online article, if necessary.

  26. In the “editor’s selection” (the most insightful comments on the article according to a NYT editor) we have –
    “If we (as a species) manage to transcend our current primitive state of psycho-social-spiritual development and we make it to the year 3000, they will look back on the way we lived our “lives” in this era with great pity and compassion.”

  27. It would be interesting to know whether the Weekly Playboy article had the same figures on virginity or whether that was an error which crept into the English translation. It’s entirely possible that the Japanese piece did play fast and loose with the numbers because the local media is also prone to exaggeration and identifying “trends” on the basis of only one or two observations.

  28. I kind of doubt the actual editors are screening the comments. More likely an intern.

  29. “More likely an intern.”

    There is a big problem that I can see here – authorship.

    I looked at some of Katayama’s other stuff, fearing that it would be like the maid thing linked above, but I discovered that her taste in manga is very similar to mine and she writes about it well and with insight. Despite the NYT piece, I’ll probably start reading her on a regular basis.

    So what went wrong here? Jitters on the big stage led to trying to make a few freaks into a social trend? Or did the NYT people ask her to make things bigger and bolder? Is it really an editor picking silly comments like that one like they say (if so, they should damn well have enough time to fact check), or an intern? Did the offending stat really come from WaiWai? No citation. Government survey? No citation. Did the editors tell her to scrap citations to save word count? Would it be okay to present unsourced survey information like that about a US issue in the NYT? Does the NYT even have people who can fact check Japanese sources at this point? This is a low stakes otaku article but what about one on nuclear arms some point down the road?

    We have no idea what went wrong where. All I can say is that I know Katayama can do better. Wish I had as much faith in the NYT.

  30. “Did the offending stat really come from WaiWai? No citation. Government survey? No citation. Did the editors tell her to scrap citations to save word count?”

    The fact is, newspaper articles, as a general rule, present very few citations for most of their data, and there is absolutely nothing unusual about a vague description for a source like those used in this article. Supposedly the journalist’s notes are meticulous about the sources and they are all double-checked by the editors, but why the actual citations don’t, at the very least, make it into the html version of the article escapes me completely.

    “Does the NYT even have people who can fact check Japanese sources at this point? This is a low stakes otaku article but what about one on nuclear arms some point down the road?”
    Maybe they only bother fact-checking articles on hard economics or geopolitics?

  31. “Maybe they only bother fact-checking articles on hard economics or geopolitics?”

    Let’s hope.

    As an added point of interest, the stats that Adamu linked to indicate that the percentage of male and female virgins in their early 30s is actually quite a bit lower now than it was in the late 1980s (the stats suggest that people of all ages are having sex earlier, a trend that has been going for decades). So in the era of Moe anime – fewer people in their 30s are virgins than ever before in Japanese history. There must be a connection there. Or not.

  32. Great post—post of the year.

    Yeah, remember all those articles from a decade ago that reported “as many as 80% of high school girls are engaged in enjo kosai.” Turns out a decade later… they’re all sexless virgins!

    Oh, and M-Bone, that’s a beautiful post from 2007 on vending machine costumes as camoflauge. Jesus, so much for the paper of record…

  33. I dunno Adam. Color me unconvinced by your analysis. Right off the bat, you’re equating phenomenon with something being common. That’s not my understanding of what phenomenon means. I think Katayama is pretty specific about her subject in the 5th paragraph where she calls 2D lovers a subculture. It’s clear that they are not mainstream.

    The basis for your criticism is weak. You call the stats on virginity and the possible WaiWai connection small errors, but conflate them into large issues by the end of your writing. My take is that this is small potatoes. Katayama is guilty of being sloppy, but I don’t get the sense that she was intentionally trying to play up the “Japanese are freaks” angle. Like you, I want to know where the figures come from because one of my pet peeves in journalism is the “According to a recent survey/report/” line.

    The link to WaiWai looks pretty tenuous to me, too. Who is is this “some” who accuse Katayama of using the notorious WaiWai as a source? You even admit that you’re grasping at straws as to whether there even is a connection to the column. What’s of more interest here is where the Weekly Playboy got it’s information.

    If you’re worried about reporting that might not portray Japan correctly, then I have to call you on this: “In Japan, most men are probably more like economic commentator Takuro Morinaga who grew up on a diet of anime and maybe even dabbled in some “2D Love” content but never made the plunge into Nisan territory”

    Most men? Really? I don’t think so. It’s ironic that you’re worried about readers getting the wrong impression of Japan and you then turn around and portray Japanese men as dumpy, uninformed, geeks.

    And there’s this gem: “... the next time she wants to write a story she is more than welcome to enlist my help if she wants to know what government studies are actually saying about Japan.” Could you be any more condescending?

    This, I agree with, however: “I hope readers can make the distinction between this fringe phenomenon and the more normal lifestyles led by everyday Japanese people.”

    As I said, I think you’re making a mountain out of a molehill. I think we do agree that the source of those stats on virginity are more interesting because it’s things like this that can perpetrate eternal ignorance. I don’t believe Katayama’s article is so far out and biased that readers would come away thinking Japanese men are completely messed up perverts. After reading the article, my impression was that the pillow lovers have some deep metal issues to resolve. I feel sad for them. Rather than worry about whether foreigners will the get the wrong impression about Japanese men, maybe we should be asking why are these men having relationships with pillows?

  34. I am a bit divided on this one, because I do think there are enough moe-loving, icono-ephebophiliic otaku to justify a trend story on how certain Japanese men have abandoned the basic tenets of human sexuality. For a certain group of men, a drawing of a 12 year-old girl with huge breasts and cat ears is way sexier than a photography of a naked adult woman. Whether this is “good” or “bad,” this is a change for both Japanese society and the world. How many Edo era guys were so busy lusting after fantasy-themed ukiyo-e that they had no interest in Yoshiwara? (Some, maybe.)

    That being said, by featuring Nisan (why only one “i”?), you bury the real story. In that, yes, the pillow humping guy is an extreme phenomenon, but the “average” moe otaku experience would also be seen as deviant from social norms by mainstream society.

    So, yes, this piece had some problems and fell into the “God, why are Japanese so perverted?” narrative, even without being explicitly preached. But in the process, it totally missed the actual interesting trend of more widespread moe eroticism. There are obvious and unobvious reasons why a good portion of men lust after imaginary 12 year-old girls who show them unconditional love, but the article never bothered to go there.

  35. “I don’t believe Katayama’s article is so far out and biased that readers would come away thinking Japanese men are completely messed up perverts.”

    Read the comments thread on the NYT article and BoingBoing- people are turing the examples that Katayama gave into totalizing interpretations of Japan. The article is very much open to that use.

    “she calls 2D lovers a subculture. It’s clear that they are not mainstream.”

    Is it? It isn’t at all clear if she is talking about hundreds or hundreds of thousands here. I would be surprised if there are 100 Japanese guys taking their dakimakura out for a walk. She doesn’t talk about a “subculture”, she talks about a “thriving subculture”. It isn’t. Sales of Erogame and the like are down four years running (I don’t touch that stuff, BTW, but I can use Google).

    She takes the “thriving subculture” and uses it to argue “According to many who study the phenomenon, the rise of 2-D love can be attributed in part to the difficulty many young Japanese have in navigating modern romantic life.” As I mentioned above – more young people losing virginity in high school, more shotgun weddings, fewer virgins in their 30s. Serious scholars are NOT equating 2D love with “modern romantic life”, it is being studied as a tiny, marginalized subculture.

    She goes on to once again promote the idea that this is not a minor thing – “In Japan the fetishistic love for two-dimensional characters is enough of a phenomenon to have earned its own slang word, moe, homonymous with the Japanese words for “burning” or “budding.”” She starts calling it a phonomenon and then misrepresents what “moe” means in the anime/manga context (won’t get into that). That may not seem like a big thing in the grand scheme of things, but it is what the article is about, right? I don’t think that Adamu went into too much detail, but Moe is a significant subset of otaku – it isn’t by any means about 2D “relationships”, however.

    “In Japan, most men are probably more like economic commentator Takuro Morinaga who grew up on a diet of anime and maybe even dabbled in some “2D Love” content but never made the plunge into Nisan territory”

    Adamu is correct here. Virtually all Japanese men of a certain generation know at least the basics about certain anime. I also don’t think that it is a big stretch to suggest that some Japanese guys have had crushes on 2D girls. The problem here is “2D” is being represented as very freaky stuff in the article. In common experience, it is more like a 14 year old thinking that Buruma from Dragon Ball is hot, working up the courage to shoplift a porno manga, or buying a figure on a whim at 26.

  36. Marxy offers a good def of what I left out – just what Moe is as a consumption thing.

    Have to take issue with this, however –
    “There are obvious and unobvious reasons why a good portion of men lust after imaginary 12 year-old girls”

    Not a single manga in the top 25 sellers of 2008 has this type of content. The “beautiful boys” for female otaku sell much better (黒執事 and 桜蘭高校ホスト部). The boy on boy rape titles for female otaku sell more copies and are more prolific than the moe titles for men. A moe title that tops 50,000 copies is a bestseller (in a market where the bestselling Shonen titles will sell 2,000,000 plus copies). Lots of guys will dabble in their teens or twenties, but this is no longer a Japanese thing – it is the Moe titles that are being released in droves in NA these days.

  37. Right but I would also argue that moe has given NA guys an introduction to and a new legitimacy for their icono-ephebophiliia. The otaku subculture has created a huge host of “cute little girl with big boobs” products that are created by men, targeted to men, and now exported for the same reason. The American market just never created erotic tokens of that measure, at least to that kind of mass market degree. There may have been a latent demand though, judging by moe sales in NA.

    Moe eroticism is not the dominant thing in the total manga market or the anime market, but I would say that it is now a defining feature of otaku self-identity. You can like anime and manga and not be an otaku. But even Azuma Hiroki and Okada do see Moe as the most defining characteristic of the “new” otaku set.

  38. I dunno.I even wrote reply to Gen Kanai over twitter that this article is “I thought well researched.She wrote a piece on phenomenon”.Didn’t know about the lack of stats though.

    Hey,this is New York Times we are talking about.
    It’s pretty convenient and reliable paper regarding events around tri-state area.But Japan?
    How many of your still remember that Martin Fackler piece that Curzon was refferring?He would lose his job for totally making it up if he was working for Japanese television industry. And that video piece on Japan’s defense policy and asking interviews to likes of uyoku dude on the black truck and pacifist scholar and totally bipassing defense analysts and DoD people?Nonaka Hiromu as Japan’s answer to Barack Obama?China is culturally more open simply because they don’t use katakana?J-women’s exodus to NY to escape from male dominant J-society?

    Personally I feel Katayama is a lesser evil if you count where the report being printed.

  39. I wish I could say how the NYT coverage of other foreign countries compares with that of Japan, but I just don’t know nearly enough about most of them to judge. They definitely seem to do better work on China, but they probably also have far more reporters there these days.

  40. “But even Azuma Hiroki and Okada do see Moe as the most defining characteristic of the “new” otaku set.”

    Fair enough. My concern with a lot of the Moe debate is that there has really been little effort to quantify it. Let’s face it, Azuma and Okada have also promoted themselves and their work – and lined their pockets – by promoting Moe and perhaps making it out to be more than it is. Japanese TV networks have been the most guilty, citing numbers on manga and anime sales and equating this with these crazy “otaku”.

    Ace – I agree that this fits into a long strand of bad Japan reportage at the NYT. My not trusting the newspaper as much any more is not due to this article alone. Quoting myself from the Neojaponisme discussion of Fackler –
    “Is it just me or is the “vending machine disguises to avoid crime” version of Japan more realistic than the “five years away from launching a nuke at Hong Kong xenophobic fascist militarist hell” version?” The thing is, I don’t really want ANY of these versions in the NYT. As I mentioned above – how do you tell an undergrad that they shouldn’t have cited something in the NYT?

  41. Does anyone remember the “secret word” on Pee Wee’s Playhouse where if someone said it, everyone would scream and stuff? Our “secret word” of the day icono-ephebophiliia.

  42. I’m intrigued by how often legacy media outlets feature pieces on Japan written by what I assume are Japanese-Americans. Do editors believe there to exist a subtle DNA vibe or something between the writer and Japan? If they do – well, that’s the same logic that Roosevelt used to put the nikkeijin into internment camps during the war.

  43. Excellent article.

    I’m an American and I’ve been living in southeast Asia for about a year now. It’s been a real eye opener and I have a different perspective on the world, and on the US, because of it.

    I think Americans need real news about what’s really going on in the world. News is meant to be a legitimate source of information. If people want to read entertainment they’d pick up a magazine.

    I think mistakes like this are reasons why more and more people are turning to social-media outlets like blogs for their information.

  44. Well, this author DOES seem to live in Tokyo and be into the whole Akihabara scene, so I think being of Japanese descent is pretty incidental. If you were thinking of the NYT’s Norimitsu Onishi, well he was born in Japan but mostly grew up in Canada, and worked his way up through the Times before getting sent to Japan, which wasn’t even his first overseas assignment. He is apparently fluent in Japanese though, which is supposedly a first for their Japan bureau chief. I also know a half-Japanese guy who did some reporting for the BBC here, but like Katayama he was already in Japan due to personal interest and pursued it actively. Maybe there are a lot of cases I’m not aware of, but I really don’t see a big trend in ethnic Japanese reporters covering Japan for foreign media.

  45. Incidentally, I just checked and no new NYT pieces by Onishi for well over a year, and then a couple of days age he has a piece on the Indonesian election. Maybe he got a new assignment?

  46. “They definitely seem to do better work on China, but they probably also have far more reporters there these days.”

    If Adamu’s assumption is correct and Americans like to read stories about other countries that got (are getting) modernisation wrong, then China throws up plenty of examples of this that also happen to be true. Crushing poverty, human rights abuses, destruction and commodification of minority culture… Of course, one may argue that there is much right about Chinese modernisation, but that is either filed in the “so much growth it is amazing” or “China threat” sections of the newspapers. In any case, it is easier for journalists to paint an accurate picture of issues in China and still do their duty to fuel their readers’ sense of outrage and amazement while they happen to be telling the truth at the same time.

    Meanwhile, life in Japan is pretty much normal, and when it is not normal, the issues are often boring, complex, involve celebrities Americans have never heard of or are otherwise unrelated to the lives of readers. How do you sell that? Answer: You don’t.

  47. Meanwhile, life in Japan is pretty much normal, and when it is not normal, the issues are often boring, complex, involve celebrities Americans have never heard of or are otherwise unrelated to the lives of readers. How do you sell that? Answer: You don’t.

    This.

  48. In a way,Americans respect China as an equal while Japan is marely a vassal state.
    Plus it seems American journos only use their intellectual muscles when they portray the Japanese nation and society in negative light.

    Whether you agree them or not,Chinese charge on American one-sided press coverage and try to have their voice heard in international arena,while Japanese passively become the prey.Think forum like NBR US-Japan discussion canbe torelated among Chinese?

  49. Excellent analysis and putting things in perspective.
    I would just like to add that in her July 23 BoingBoing post, she makes this interesting note:

    “I should point out that this phenomenon is not unique to Japan, or to men, but I think it’s safe to say that that is where it originated. In the interest of space the editors and I had to cut out the sections about 2D love in the US and elsewhere, and among women.”

    To me this was most intriguing, implying that there is additional research that was omitted (apparently for the sake of a more traditional “japan is weird” article).
    But given a careful look on the statistics and how out-of-proportion the “phenomenon” (ha!) is presented (I live in Tokyo and I hang around Akiba every w/end, I never saw any 2D love guys wandering around; heck, I don’t remember seeing any at a Comiket event) it makes me wonder if she has any credible research, sources and citations, on this “bigger picture” implied by her note. I would be far more interested to read that extended version of her article, but now this comment looks like an attempt to make this article look more important than the (unfortunate) hack job it is.
    Could of course always blame the evil editors etc, but personally when I am not happy on how my own work is edited, I don’t advertise it everywhere with pride…

  50. I don’t know. While the political class might look at Japan as a “vassal state” I really don’t have any sense that the public at large does. I don’t even think most Americans even have a clear sense of the military/political relationship between the two countries. The 1980s narrative of Japan taking over the world is totally dead and buried, but I still kind of think that the common American view of Japan is as the economic powerhouse of Asia, and somehow vaguely morally superior to China.

  51. catoneinutica:

    “I’m intrigued by how often legacy media outlets feature pieces on Japan written by what I assume are Japanese-Americans. Do editors believe there to exist a subtle DNA vibe or something between the writer and Japan?”

    Indeed. I’d like to make a parallel observation on this regarding my experience in interviewing for jobs that require Japanese fluency.

    Generally, when the position is in Japan, at a Japanese institution, or working with Japanese coworkers, the required standard of language fluency is “fluency” or “near-native fluency.” That means a person such as myself—or Joe, Adamu, or Roy—would probably qualify, as we can speak, read and write, and conduct business in Japanese.

    However, when the position is at a company or institution overseas which has no current Japanese language expertise, the stated standard is “native fluency”—but unless they have some external ability to truly guage Japanese native fluency, they ultimately must revert to picking a person with Japanese ethnicity, a Japanese name, etc. I’ve found this curious phemonenon in three cases, where the company in question had no Japanese fluent staff but wanted them for some sort of new venture or business angle.

    The same may be the case for the media—not just regarding Japan, but any “foreign” country. If they lack the basic knowledge or sophistication regarding a particular area, it’s much easy to rely on the product produced by someone who is “native,” or at least can play the part.

    Of course, this is a nonsense standard. But it’s the easiest way to make a decision for the lazy.

  52. I know of at least one non-Japanese-DNA-endowed worker in the United States who was hired partly on the basis of his Japanese-language skills when the “institution” he works for has no ability to test him on said skills… Seems to have worked out okay so far.

    Surely institutions like the NYTimes don’t rely on the DNA method, though. I have no idea whether Katayama speaks Japanese. I would imagine she probably does, but the NYT people probably just liked the story.

    The problem, however, lies in fact-checking. How do the NYT people know what Katayama is saying is true? Do they have people who can check her sources in Japanese? If not, what is to stop me from watching Japan Probe, picking a youtube video and writing a story about, say, the “Japanese tendency” to make animals act like humans for entertainment?

  53. “Well, this author DOES seem to live in Tokyo and be into the whole Akihabara scene, so I think being of Japanese descent is pretty incidental. ”

    I don’t know Lisa Katayama but friends of mine do. From what I have heard, she grew up in Tokyo, went to international schools (i.e. not a Japanese domestic education) and lives in San Francisco. So does not live in Tokyo.

  54. “Do they have people who can check her sources in Japanese?”

    This is really the million dollar question. The 25% virgins thing isn’t just a little mistake, it is very obviously impossible. It would be like me writing that “11% of Americans have been shot at least once” or “4% of Canadians were attacked by bears in 2008” and passing it off in a Japanese publication. Weekly Playboy, maybe. But the Yomiuri?

    I glanced over about 200 Japan articles from Google News and I don’t see a “Japanese DNA” trend. I was pretty sure that I would, so catoneinutica was fair to raise the point. I have no doubt, however, that it is a factor in situations like those that Curzon describes. In addition, we have to be careful when just looking at names – in Japanese studies and the bigger sphere of Japan connected work there are plenty of Mary Nakazawa’s out there who were born Mary Smith.

  55. “I’m intrigued by how often legacy media outlets feature pieces on Japan written by what I assume are Japanese-Americans. Do editors believe there to exist a subtle DNA vibe or something between the writer and Japan?”

    I can only remember two names.Notimitsu Onishi,the current and Teresa Watanabe of LA times who was here in the mid 90’s.

    I can’t remember a single Japanese American name as staffer here when Tokyo was more important destination for foreign correpondents.The current ethnic rise is definitly has something to do with deterioration of interest in Japan stories.NYT used to send the top names like David E.Sanger and Nicholas Chirstof.Now we have Noromitsu.LA times had shut down Tokyo bureau and cover Japan stories from Seoul now.

    Personally I’d be cautious seeing Japanese American names on English paper Japan reporting since they are usually waaay more harsher on Japan than non-Japanese origin,a trend that’s been carried since WW2 and they still can be wrong on the country.Ofcourse this isn’t just go the to hyphenated North American but also to the Japanese expatriates whose been abroad for too long and totally lost in touch with local angle and thinks that’s “internationalized”.

  56. Just read other comments on Katayama in other forums…

    God,People are so cruel to her.I have to say this.”Wacky Japan” isn’t her invention nor she will be the last to make money out of the meme.There are just too many people working for media in Japan who can’t read the local langugage but still have to write an article on the country for living.I totally change my stance to my foreign colleagues on this from now.I can probably run faster than Helen Keller could in her best shape,but that doesn’t mean I’m better individual,you know.

    I also want to ask everyone here that what are the differences between “Japan is weird” and “Japan is unique”.
    The former is the key tone in Japan reporting EVERYONE but Japanese prefer to use,while the latter gets canned as some sort of ethno-centrism that every foreiners must destroy the national illusion to prevent the second Nanjing massacre from happening or something.Means pretty much the same way,No?Just different language?

  57. Aceface, where are the cruel comments popping up?

    “Means pretty much the same way, No?”

    That’s the thing, if “the Japanese” are being criticised for a group feeling of being unique, the author doing the criticism is also making use of “Japanese” and “everbody else” categories.

    “Japan is weird” just takes what started as a race argument in the 19th century, turned into a political / cultural argument in the 20th (with racial dimensions), and now exists as a marketable meme. It is reportage as entertainment and won’t go away. I don’t think that it is “evil” or anything as, for most people, it is read with a feeling of kitschy charm and it has helped to turn Japan from the yellow peril of Rising Sun into something funky-cool. I just don’t like to see “Japan is weird” associated with social trends or armchair sociology.

  58. “Just read other comments on Katayama in other forums…

    God,People are so cruel to her.I have to say this.”Wacky Japan” isn’t her invention nor she will be the last to make money out of the meme.”
    And it sounds like her extended cut of the story in which she made a comparison with the US would have been much better too. While I totally understand that the magazine only has a certain number of column inches for a story like this, why can’t we get the longer version online?

  59. In Australia the local commuter throw away rag is more filled with stories of weird Amercians. i.e. the “only in America”, then followed by oddities in the UK, Germany and other European countries and Asian countries a distant last. This isn’t fueled by any particular dislike of Americans but is more due to the ease of getting the stories – and any country with nearly 310 million – means that if a particular quirk only happens to 1 in a million people – then there would be over 300 in the US.

    So in Australia it’s less weird Japan more weird US

  60. “Weird America” is maybe an even easier target than “Weird Japan.” Hell, one of my favorite magazines is “Weird New Jersey” (http://www.weirdnj.com), a local indy publication back home.

  61. My biggest complaint about that hostess club article is that it doesn’t talk at all about the clients- who they are, what’s their motivation, why are hostess clubs so popular, and also very key-what effect mayl the recession have on men’s ability to throw money away in hostess clubs?

    For criticism on the contents, let’s have our local kyabakura expert Marxy weigh in.

  62. This comment from RY on the NYT article pretty much summed it up for me.

    “I just want to say one thing, as a Japanese person – this is a very very extreme case. I don’t think it is fair that people from other countries discuss Japanese society and culture only through this one guy. I grew up in Tokyo and lived there until 3 years ago, but I’ve never seen such a guy, and even 2D lovers in person. It is true that there are some 2D lovers in Japan and actually Japanese media extensively reported about these people a few years ago. BUT before talking about these people, there are much more other things to be reported and introduced.

    “I really wondered this article was printed on the New York Times magazine… I’m really afraid this might cause some cultural misunderstanding…”

  63. Obvious I’d hope . . . but the journalist’s ethnicity and her sex should be irrelevant to an assessment of her work.

  64. >>“Weird America” is maybe an even easier target than “Weird Japan.”

    Indeed. I really enjoy Tomohiro Machiyama’s books on that very topic:

    アメリカ横断TVガイド – “The Wild Wild World of American Television”
    USAカニバケツ – “Crab Bucket USA
    アメリカ人の半分はニューヨークの場所を知らない – “Half of Americans Can’t Place New York on a Map”

    etc.

  65. This post has received far more attention than I expected!

    Brand X: – The errors are small but important – small because their impact on the overall story is relatively small, but important because people will latch onto these supposed facts and pass them on as truth just because they came from the New York Times. Secondly, I am not saying she definitely used WaiWai but it seems kind of likely since I dont see anyplace else making that same claim. For the “some” you can check the BoingBoing comments section which I linked to at the top of the post.

    – I don’t see a huge fundamental difference between the anime porn and live action (they are both 2D, and in Japan both feature disproportionate amounts of underage content), so when I say most men are closer to Morinaga, I mean that they tend to consume porn privately but dont exhibit Nisan’s extreme behavior. That is all. And I dont think it is at all wrong to say that “most Japanese men” consume porn in one form or another.

    I am standing by my judgment that she is mischaracterizing the situation and agree with M-Bone’s assessment that she was not being “specific” as you contend.

    I hope I am not being condescending – she really is free to contact me with questions if she has any. I work as a professional translator and read through this stuff as part of my living.

  66. Weird America is such fertile ground that Comedy Central has two shows dedicated to it – The Daily Show and Colbert Report!

    Also note that fark.com is probably 90% stories from the US (Florida has its own category), with random bits from other parts of the world including Japan.

  67. Ah, the 2D article, the herbivore article, and the hostess article. If someone put it all together in one well-contextualized feature, now that would be great.

  68. Adamu, you are being condescending. I believe that Katayama is bilingual. Perhaps you should contact her when you have difficulty with your translating work?

  69. “I am a bit divided on this one, because I do think there are enough moe-loving, icono-ephebophiliic otaku to justify a trend story on how certain Japanese men have abandoned the basic tenets of human sexuality.”

    The article really should have made it clear how small a subset of a subsection of a subgroup of a subculture this really is – probably thousands of people at best.

    I’m impressed by the number of comments here though :)

    What really annoys me about articles like this is that their are almost always inaccurate, too shallow or too narrow to actually capture the situation and dissect it in a manner that does the topic justice – enjokosai is one example, host/hostess clubs, anything to do with otaku and 2ch also tend to be all over the place.

    Theres plenty of topics you can research and do investigative journalism on that would curl the hair of most people – enjo kosai is still rampant online, ranko parties are starting to come into the spotlight, and its not hard to find thinly veiled prostitution online either (deli health, etc).

    With this kind of stuff going on I don’t see why a small group of men who like pillows is NYT material.

  70. >>Katayama is bilingual. Perhaps you should contact her when you have difficulty with >>your translating work?

    Putting both Lisa and the issue of whether Adam’s comment was condescending aside, it is a common fallacy that bilinguality equals prowess in translation. And that goes double when it comes to highly technical documents such as government reports. Quite often even native speakers have a hard time making heads or tails out of things like that.

  71. Katayama’s twitter responses to inquiries were pretty condescending, so it’s only fair that Adamu respond the way he did.

  72. Excellent article, and I think it makes clear the difference between people who truly understand and can convey a situation, as opposed to those who are out to capitalize on something just to make a quick buck.

    I have to admit, it’s kind of amazing to see a paper like the NYT run something like this. It’s a bit of an integrity blow. A failure to accurately list references in her article as well as then her attitude towards it afterwards just goes to show she’s still got a way to go before being a serious journalist.

    For the time being, she’s just another blogger using fairly inane tripe and fluff posts who is out trying to sell her book of common tips. Overall, she doesn’t have quite the clout of other JP related bloggers, such as, while niche, Danny Choo. Danny, while doing the full frontal Otaku Japan thing, tends to be fairly consistent with his articles, as well as the lifestyle. Unfortunately, Kateyama goes with the quick sell japan wierdness with the occasional gadget posts, followed by her own dog pictures.

    @Anon: I agree with you on the topics that you see boiling under the surface here in Japan, but no one wants to talk about. In particular, the rising number of adults, particularly teachers arrested for the enjo kosai, the high suicide rate, and as you mentioned, the sex industry in a whole, or the fact that Japan’s still ruled by old men who’s idea’s haven’t changed and are only concerned with their own well being. Instead we get Akiba, Otaku, and anime. Fun stuff.

  73. Adamu, you are being condescending. I believe that Katayama is bilingual. Perhaps you should contact her when you have difficulty with your translating work?

    Every journalist and blogger are prone to mistakes, but “Nisan” instead of “Niisan”, “Nemutan” instead of “Nemu-chan” and trouble noticing 未婚者 all over graphs? Seems unlikely. I could be wrong, though. The main problem is when NYT leaves a mistake like this uncorrected it becomes a fact, and there seems to be a disproportionate number of these “facts” about Japanese people.

    Regarding questions of editors at HQ fact-checking in Japanese—or even having someone do it for them—lol.

  74. “Nemutan” instead of “Nemu-chan”

    Actually, moe mascots are often called “-tan” instead of “-chan.”

  75. MattAlt, you are right, but my facetious point was that just because Adamu has good Japanese, it doesn’t qualify him as a journalist – despite the impressive fact-checking he did here.

    The exact difference between a fact-checker and a journalist is that a journalist has to go offline, leave the office and talk to people face to face. It seems to me that Katayama did a really good job of that. The article is honest and sympathetic to its subjects, and has obviously got many people thinking about otaku culture in Japan.

    Demanding that Katayama puts the story “in context” as many people in this thread have is unfair I think. If people in the US assume that all Japanese are pillow lovers that probably says more about the paucity of news on Japan the US media and the ignorance of the average news consumer than Katayama’s attempt to faithfully describe a single extreme trend.

  76. @M-bone:
    “Aceface, where are the cruel comments popping up?”
    Like this from Japan Probe.
    “Lisa Katayama is desperate for fame and is selling out popular Japanese culture to try to attain it. Sad.”

    What the hell,Thomas Friedman didn’t start globalization singlehandedly and neither this Lisa girl with sexual fantasy of Japanese geekdom.
    Personally I’m relieved to know that the world now understands that Japanese men had picked up some lessons from the history and start using pillow to unleash their libido insted of gang rapinig Chinese girls.

    @Matt:
    Objection.Machiyama is intentionally focusing the nitche genre of “America you didn’t know before”which is a bit different from “Wacky America”.There are mainstream of American report plus American media has it’s own outlet to project it’s discourse by breaking the language barriers.NewsWeek Japan is one of them and it’s not coincindetal that Machiyama writes for their website.
    It’s all about lack of diversity and depth of coverage that widening the perception gap between Japan and America.We know the difference between Noam Chomsky and Rush Limbaugh and we know that most Americans don’t belong to neither of the camps.Big difference between “Wacky Japan” article is it’s “This IS Japan” tone.
    How many Americans know about,say Kobayashi Yoshinori and how he’s being percieved in Japan?The matter is they don’t have clear idea and neither the people who are writing on the subject,or so it seems to y eyes.

  77. I stand corrected—I now see that it’s 音夢たん. Is that a childlike pronunciation of “-chan”? Somehow I’m glad I was ignorant of that… Still, nothing about the writing/fact-checking screamed “bilingual” to me, but as Matt correctly states being bilingual and a good translator (ergo a good writer) are two different things.

  78. @M-bone:
    “Aceface, where are the cruel comments popping up?”
    Like this from Japan Probe.
    “Lisa Katayama is desperate for fame and is selling out popular Japanese culture to try to attain it. Sad.”

    What the hell,Thomas Friedman didn’t start globalization singlehandedly and neither this Lisa girl with sexual fantasy of Japanese geekdom.
    Personally I’m relieved to know that the world now understands that Japanese men had picked up some lessons from the history and start using pillow to unleash their libido insted of gang rapinig Chinese girls.

    @Matt:
    Objection.Machiyama is intentionally focusing the nitche genre of “America you didn’t know before”which is a bit different from “Wacky America”.There are mainstream of American report plus American media has it’s own outlet to project it’s discourse by breaking the language barriers.NewsWeek Japan is one of them and it’s not coincindetal that Machiyama writes for their website.
    It’s all about lack of diversity and depth of coverage that widening the perception gap between Japan and America.Big difference between “Wacky Japan” article is it’s “This IS Japan” tone.We know the difference between Noam Chomsky and Rush Limbaugh and we know that most Americans don’t belong to neither of the camps.
    How many Americans know about,say Kobayashi Yoshinori and how he’s being percieved in Japan?The matter is they don’t have clear idea and neither the people who are writing on the subject,or so it seems to my eyes.

  79. If people in the US assume that all Japanese are pillow lovers that probably says more about the paucity of news on Japan the US media and the ignorance of the average news consumer than Katayama’s attempt to faithfully describe a single extreme trend.

    Fair enough, but how are Americans supposed to know any better if their few messengers from Japan are all focusing on out-lying facts?

  80. Fair enough, but how are Americans supposed to know any better if their few messengers from Japan are all focusing on out-lying facts?

    It’s down to overseas editors choosing which messengers get to deliver that message. If you guys (there are three or four good candidates right here) want to do “wacky Japan” the right way, in printed media, for money, you should be auditioning for the job. Right or wrong, great blog comebacks by obviously knowledgeable people don’t seem to parlay into work.

  81. “Fair enough, but how are Americans supposed to know any better if their few messengers from Japan are all focusing on out-lying facts?”

    I have to admit I’m not a big reader of the US media, so I don’t know if is true that most stories are on weird Japan or minor phenomena.

    But assuming it is true, we have this wonderful thing called the internet now though, so perhaps it is up to consumers to provide themselves with a rounded picture? Personally, I don’t have a problem accessing info on any Japan topic.

    I suspect that is actually the nub of this debate. A few years ago Katayama’s story probably wouldn’t have been published at all, or if it had, by a full-time correspondent who’d just come from somewhere else and knew no or little Japanese. It would have been some generic otaku story quoting a couple of cultural commentators and a “otaku” friend of the NYT office researcher.

    It seems to me that some people are objecting not because the article is superficial, but because it is too focused. Yes, if you only read the NYT this might skew your image of Japan, but everyone’s getting thier media from everywhere, right?

    Who wants to go back to being spoonfed authoritative information by the “papers of record”?

  82. “It seems to me that some people are objecting not because the article is superficial, but because it is too focused. ”

    Or to be more exact “highly selective with the issue they chose to focus on”.

  83. “Lisa Katayama is desperate for fame and is selling out popular Japanese culture to try to attain it. Sad.”

    I see your point here. “Selling out popular Japanese culture”? That’s just a strange idea.

    >Personally I’m relieved to know that the world now understands that Japanese men had picked up some lessons from the history and start using pillow to unleash their libido insted of gang rapinig Chinese girls.

    Well, I’ve been arguing for a while now that this “cool/strange Japan” thing has pretty much replaced the idea of Japan as a warlike human rights carwreck for a whole generation (or two) in North America.

    “Right or wrong, great blog comebacks by obviously knowledgeable people don’t seem to parlay into work.”

    I pretty much do this for a living. Writing for a living can suck at times, however – I don’t think that Adamu and others are “auditioning” for anything as much as using new media to publish their opinions and stay engaged.

    “Who wants to go back to being spoonfed authoritative information by the “papers of record”?”

    We still want to be able to trust them to tell us what is a thriving subculture, what is a phenomenon, what is a small niche, and what is maybe a few dozen nutters in a country of 125 million. The fact remains that in an information marketplace with many options, the NYT is probably the single biggest stage for Japan interpretation in the United States. We expect better.

  84. “We still want to be able to trust them to tell us what is a thriving subculture, what is a phenomenon, what is a small niche, and what is maybe a few dozen nutters in a country of 125 million.”

    Katayama wrote that it was a “thriving subculture”.

    “Right or wrong, great blog comebacks by obviously knowledgeable people don’t seem to parlay into work.”

    That sounds like a good plan. Help destroy the NYT’s business model by providing knowledgeable commentary for free, then ask them for a job!

  85. That sounds like a good plan. Help destroy the NYT’s business model by providing knowledgeable commentary for free, then ask them for a job!

    Don’t have to go to NYT —they may not even pay the best per-word rate.

    I don’t think that Adamu and others are “auditioning” for anything as much as using new media to publish their opinions and stay engaged.

    The good thing about these flawed articles are the valuable comment threads they spawn. “Perfect” pieces would probably not spark much interesting debate.

  86. I for one couldn’t take the article seriously thanks to the horrible romanisation of Japanese – titles such as “san”, “chan”, “tan” etc should be proceeded by a space or better yet a hyphen. Also you can’t just drop letters from a word like Nii-san. If you can’t show basic knowledge of the language, then I’m not going to take your article seriously.

    @Rob

    No one wants to touch those subjects because they’ll be shut-out from the local media. Its well known that you only get the special treatment if you play by the rules – thats why we only get the weird and quirky stories, which may only brush over a deeper darker reality. What I find far more disturbing than pervy teachers is how many government workers – police, government officials etc – are picked up for enjokosai or molestation. Its been a while since I’ve had to manhandle a chikan off the train, but when I rode the peak hour train packed with children on their way to school it was a weekly occurrence.

    Oh, and who remembers the shortlived uproar over U15/U14 idol stuff? There’s a “thriving subculture” and market of people, I assume men, who buy DVDs of girls now as young as 10 posing and acting suggestively in swimsuits etc. At least the JapanTimes touched on the subject a few years ago, but the ages have been dropping and the subject has mysteriously disappeared from the media, even locally.

  87. Anon – Katayama herself has written about sex trafficking into Japan and the NYT publishes many articles of various levels of fairness/unfairness critical of Japanese politics, discrimination, crime, foreign affairs stance, etc. There are information access problems in Japan, but large outfits, and even unconnected individuals, all being cut off for writing on critical themes? No.

    The subject of sex crimes and abuse of children has been exceptionally well covered in recent Japanese monthly magazines, the papers of record, and a variety of books –
    殺さないで―児童虐待という犯罪   毎日新聞児童虐待取材班 (著)
    ルポ 児童虐待 (朝日新書) 朝日新聞 大阪本社編集局 (著)
    児童虐待―現場からの提言 (岩波新書) (新書)
    凍りついた瞳(め)―子ども虐待ドキュメンタリー
    新・子どもの虐待―生きる力が侵されるとき (岩波ブックレット)
    子どもへの性的虐待 (岩波新書) (新書)
    虐待―沈黙を破った母親たち (岩波現代文庫) (文庫)
    子どものトラウマ (講談社現代新書) (新書)
    子どもの最貧国・日本 (光文社新書) (新書)
    子どもと性被害 (集英社新書) (新書)

    None of these are academic books, they are all cheap mass-market paperbacks from the leading newspaper publishers and non-fiction series. I also know that Asahi and NHK have done child abuse / sexual exploitation features recently and I expect that there are other TV docos that I have not seen.

  88. @Anon

    Ah, the U10 stuff, that freaks me out. There are quite a few DVD stores selling that stuff in Akiba even. I remember when my friends came to Japan, and freaking out after seeing those style of DVD’s lined up. They came running out of the store saying that they were selling child porn in there.

    In a somewhat related note though, the pick up of certain subjects in the foreign mass media has caused some changes. In particular, the ero-game industry, with the rape style games finally getting calledt. Next up on the list, erotic fan comics that use kids under the pretense that they’re really adults!

    It’s interesting to see that sex crimes are being reported somewhat more regularly, but there still isn’t much seen as what happens afterwards, much less the penalties or fallout that the police/government officials face.

    It’s funny to read the JP comments in the link Gen provided, with a majority of people being like, didn’t we talk about this years ago?
    It seems like Kateyama just decided to start really small with pillow lovers.
    Give her a few years and I’m sure she’ll catch up to what we’re talking about today.

  89. I should add that the other Under legal age stuff freaks me out too.
    Unfortunately, you’re also in a country that likes to claim that 12~15 year olds can be busty and “gravure” and plaster them on the weekly manga anthologies for all to goggle at…

  90. “Well, I’ve been arguing for a while now that this “cool/strange Japan” thing has pretty much replaced the idea of Japan as a warlike human rights carwreck for a whole generation (or two) in North America.”

    Don’t know about that.”strange”and”brutal” can coexist and “cool”factor did exist in the argument way back in the time of “Chrysanthemum and the sword”.And from media perspective Japan isn’t “hot” topic these days.

    Underage idol thing is also a matter of concern these days.under current argument on Child porn at diet,Even Miyazawa Rie’s nude album “Santa Fe”can be included.
    On the contrary,pillow is not under any legal restriction.

  91. Ace – look at things like the totally irrational bashing of “feminists” for “insulting” Japan over rape games. There is a “thriving subculture” of kids in North America who think that Japan is a fantasy land paradise on earth and will defend it to the death. They don’t show up on the serious blogs, but they dominante the animesphere as I understand it. I’m not sure that journalism will change in the near future, but there is a lot of love for Japan among various groups of nerds, weedheads, existentialists, baristas, and or undergrads. Nihon-tataki still exists among 50 something whitebreads, but Japanese popular culture, despite hips and dips in sales now and then, is something that is both mainstream and, I would argue, a defining thing for Asian Americans to rally around to some degree. I’ve had Chinese students ask me for advice on how to convince their grandfathers that Japan isn’t evil. I wish there were some way to quantify this aside from sales numbers. Those polls on “country love” should be broken down by age group.

    There are two types of criticisims of Katayama going on on the net now – The first is by people who want to see accruate reporting of Japanese society. The second is the “mean” type that you mentioned. Where does it come from? Well, Katayama has been selling “funky” images of Japan on her blog and elsewhere. She switched up and went critical and out came the knives. In one sense, she should realize that she can’t be the popularizing social critic and the geek-chic guru at the same time. In another sense, she’s being attacked by what is a substantial number of young people out there in the Anglosphere that love Japan and won’t hear anything critical about it. This is really the first era in which such a group has existed (Japonisme still existed in a racist context).

  92. BTW, before calling for more NYT reportage on child prostitution and simlar issues in Japan, I think that there is need for more discussion in those pages of the American problem – “According to the U.S. Department of Justice, child prostitution has become a problem of epidemic proportions, with estimates ranging between 300,000 and 800,000”.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-w-whitehead/children-of-the-night-chi_b_115348.html

    We know that enjo kosai, confinement, and sex assault is a problem in Japan because it gets reported so often. About two dozen articles in the 4 major dailes this month alone. I don’t think that similar problems are reported nearly enough in the US.

    A few good ones – http://humangoods.net/2008/07/30/targeting-child-prostitution-in-atlanta/
    http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2009/07/22/eveningnews/main5181151.shtml
    But not enough.

  93. 300,000 to 800,000 is not a number to be taken lightly.

    I find the Japanese situation disturbing for 3 reasons – obviously first because I live in Japan. Second because I have friends, children of friends, and family who are at risk or have suffered in some way. And finally because I know first hand just how it works and how its very different to the situation described in the US.

    Hop on any of the popular Japanese social networks, make a new account – female, teenager. I guarantee that within 24 hours you will have at least half a dozen messages from random men. Go hop on something like Yahoo messenger and its far more direct and far more disturbing.

    I’m probably preaching to the choir, but if I had children I’d probably have gone insane by now.

  94. “If people in the US assume that all Japanese are pillow lovers that probably says more about the paucity of news on Japan the US media and the ignorance of the average news consumer than Katayama’s attempt to faithfully describe a single extreme trend.”

    Well, yes, that is precisely the problem. And as Aceface and others have pointed out there is plenty of discussion about Japan in the American press:

    ”Ah, the 2D article, the herbivore article, and the hostess article. If someone put it all together in one well-contextualized feature, now that would be great.”

    Although often they are complete bullshit, articles about subculture in Japan can be fairly harmless, and even interesting in their own right. In that light, the video piece attached to the NYTimes article was actually quite good. It did delve a little deeper than the usual “Look, Japan has X or Y. How crazy is that shit!” type of narrative. The problem is when, in order to “sell” the article, “hooks” of dubious origin are inserted to wrap it up as news.

    For example, are more and more girls really turning to hostessing during the recession? This seems counter-intuitive, as one might think that the less money there is available for entertainment, the less demand there is for hostesses. Yet, all we have to go on is the word of some dude working in the industry whose interests presumably lie in legitimizing his work, and a survey that takes gives us women’s employment preferences at one point in time. (Beware any source of information that tells you some phenomenon or other is “growing” and then doesn’t give you time-related data.) Were hostesses once “shunned”, and if so by whom? I knew a few when I lived in Japan. They were just students doing a part-time job and no one I knew “shunned” them. Sure, it wasn’t a job an o-jousan would probably do, but then well-bred American girls probably wouldn’t work at Hooters.

    Perhaps the Yomiuri should drop all of its normal reporting on the United States and focus on pieces covering the changing role of Hooters during the recession in the United States.

    And that is what I see as the major issue. Yes, non-American media pieces overseas do run “America is weird” pieces, but they are tempered by a hell of a lot of other “normal” news comment about the role of the United States. There is little editorial content about “normal” news from Japan in the NYTimes, and what there is is the same-old, same-old. I mane, it is not as if there is an election in Japan coming up, the results of which could well be the first sustainable change in government in half a century, or anything. And yes, there is reportage about this too, but it is more of the “news” variety than editorial content. There are some pretty big and obvious issues in Japan, serious discussion of which is only really available in English on blogs at the moment.

    So yeah, Lisa Katayama is not to blame when she writes about 2-D love. She is to blame when she cites dodgy stats which infer it is mildly significant phenomenon. And the NYT is to blame when it favors this type of thing over and above interesting articles about “normal” issues in Japan.

  95. “video piece attached to the NYTimes article was actually quite good”

    That is, the hostessing article.

    “But assuming it is true, we have this wonderful thing called the internet now though, so perhaps it is up to consumers to provide themselves with a rounded picture?”

    Well, I assume that people who are actually interested in what life is really like in Japan know that pillow hugging weirdos aren’t actually thriving in Tokyo, even if they are a subculture.

    “Its because of bloggers like you that sloppy information can be held accountable.”

    Well, no not really.

    Don’t get me wrong. Adam’s debunking is important. But people who are already rather well-informed about Japan read this blog. My problem is that people who read the NYTimes to relax on Sunday or pass time on the train will come away with an inaccurate impression. I’ve already seen firsthand how this sort of thing influences thinking where it shouldn’t. And it has more implications than you might think.

  96. “We know that enjo kosai, confinement, and sex assault is a problem in Japan because it gets reported so often. About two dozen articles in the 4 major dailes this month alone. I don’t think that similar problems are reported nearly enough in the US.”
    This is true, although I have actually seen several accounts in the NYT of “chikan” activity in the NYC subways and heard loads of stories first hand – although flashing seems to be far more widely reported than touching. In fact, it is a well known truism that any woman or girl who regularly rides the subway will eventually see a creepy man’s penis against her will, and this is probably true in every subway system in the world (Mexico City introduced woman only trains a couple of years ago.) However, when “chikan” in Japan are discussed, they are usually made out to be some kind of phenomenon unique to Japan, despite being sadly universal. (I actually wrote about this 3 years ago. http://www.mutantfrog.com/2006/06/28/chikan/)

    “Hop on any of the popular Japanese social networks, make a new account – female, teenager. I guarantee that within 24 hours you will have at least half a dozen messages from random men. Go hop on something like Yahoo messenger and its far more direct and far more disturbing.”
    From what I have heard, this is just as common in English. This realization dawned on me gradually after I heard a couple of female friends mention casually how many strangers IMed them online as if it were something that I would relate to, and it soon became obvious why I did not.

    There are MANY cases of non-Japan specific problems being reported as unique “wacky Japan” occurrences, which is why I am particularly peeved that the editors decided to leave out the America comparison from Lisa’s article. It would have weakened the “wacky Japan” narrative, but perhaps made it more useful food for thought.

  97. “I mane, it is not as if there is an election in Japan coming up, the results of which could well be the first sustainable change in government in half a century, or anything.”

    My thoughts exactly when I read ads of AERA magazine on train this morning.

    Check these keywords from this week’s AERA magazine.

    昭和妻 小泉チルドレン9割落選 長妻昭 悪石島×皆既日食 金正雲 辻元清美 田舎の墓ひっこし 夫婦間BtoB 資生堂で働く女 未帰還兵×映画 最先端ロボット 田原 ブルーマン ドラムストラック HY 森ガール 菊地凛子 原信夫 勝間和代×林文子 粘着質男 家出サイト 沖縄×うつ 多摩市公務員高給 

    Can you believe this?If mainstream J-mag abandon the role of serious journalism to report on current on going in J-society,how could we expect that from American press?

  98. I heard that reports of that particular succession choice are greatly exaggerated.

    Anyway, I don’t mind if AERA does pap. There are plenty of authoritative sources in Japan that don’t. Just like I don’t mind if Katayama does, or that Waiwai did, pap per se. It is the lack of alternative authoritative sources that have something sensible to say that is the problem.

  99. “From what I have heard, this is just as common in English.”

    It is true. My wife often leaves her messenger logged in and gets harrasing stuff all of the time. One time I responded to this freak that I was 12 and would meet him for $100. He was all for it. I seriously considered going and beating the $&%# out of the guy but settled for contacting Yahoo.

    Anon, I recognize your concerns about the situation in Japan, but I see one major difference between the child prostitution situation in the US - in Japan, enjo kosai is, to the best of my knowledge, something that girls chose to get invovled in. This is not universal, but most evidence points to it being the mainstream. In the US the stories are overwhelmingly about violent pimps, drug addicted runaways, and the like.

    I think that it is telling that when we have a discussion about this sort of thing – we end up using the Japanese words chikan and enjo kosai. This does not mean that it happens more in Japan. It does mean, however, that Japanese talk about it more often.

  100. Apparently about half of the population is married (note, not ever married) by age 30, less for males more for females. I guess we can assume that close to none of the married are virgins which leaves the true number closer to 12-13% of all Japanese aged 30. Still high but indeed a very different number.

    Regarding the original post I am quite sure that young people in Japan have more contact with the other sex than older people. I am quite sure that the other numbers are correct. So only one real statistical mistake, sloppy but that’s about it.

  101. There is a critical difference between child prostitution — which is really bad! — and the under-aged idol semi-porn. Basically in the face of broad social norms, the Japanese mainstream commercial marketplace has completely validated the U-15 market — solely because it is highly profitable.

    The giant publisher Shueisha hired porn photographers to shoot Saaya Irie at age 12 and then published the photo books to an adult audience. There are even worse DVDs in the legal gray area, of course, but by putting Saaya Irie on the cover of multiple “gentlemen’s” magazines, the mainstream industry has basically said that U-15 semi-porn (without even the pretense of acting, singing, or being a “talent”) is a legitimate way to become a star. (And with so many 18 year-old girls willing to get semi-nude in front of cameras, it says a lot about the male libido these days that putting a 13 or 14 year-old girl on the cover would move more copies than a “barely legal” adult.)

    Crime is crime, but I think the issue here is that the U-15 stuff has become a part of “pop culture” — mostly thanks to the rise of the moe aesthetic and a widespread male anxiety about “adult women.” Clearly child prostitution in the US is a huge problem that needs more awareness, but it fits squarely into the realm of “underground illegal market” rather than “overground commercial marketplace.”

  102. I don’t think that the one statistic would have been such a big deal had it not been for the whole bit making a mountain out of a dakimakura. When I read it first, I didn’t think for a second that “Nisan” represented a trend, but I did assume that the author found him in Akihabara or something. To not mention that he is a popular blogger pushing a version of performance art (yes, acting strangely in public and posting pictures counts) on the world and using him as an example of some sort of trend isn’t good reporting. Was the fat kid with a lightsaber a trend? (okay, bad example, but same ballpark)

    And really, is 12% or so of people between 30 and 34 that high?

    http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/289755/four_percent_of_adults_are_virgins.html

    It seems that 9% of Americans between 20-29 are virgins and this would seem to include married people as well as single so there is a chance that the number is quite a bit higher for the unmarried. The percentage of all adults 20-59 who have never had sex is 4% it seems. We don’t have a statistic for Japan covering such a wide age group, but the age at which Japanese get married has been rising (the average age is 30 for men, putting many guys in that 30-34 single group) and it is easy to guess that many of the people in that 30-34 group will in fact get married and maybe even have sex before they are 59.

  103. “There is a critical difference between child prostitution”

    The original posts were talking about enjo kosai and sexual advances toward children, etc. and the issue of waht the NYT should be reporting. I agree that there is not really anything in the US that can be compared to U15 and I hope that it gets outlawed in Japan. However, I see a lot of suggestions online that U15 “causes” things like enjo kosai and child sexual assault, and that these are worse problems in Japan than elsewhere because of the circulation of things like U15 - I don’t think that evidence supports that. It may indeed contribute to a sphere of victimization of chidren and this is the primary reason why I think that it should be crushed. However, that sphere of victimization seems to be going strong, or stronger, elsewhere without the U15.

    “thanks to the rise of the moe aesthetic”

    We may have a “chiken or egg” question going here.

  104. Marxy, excellent post, and in itself very informative.

    Along with M-Bone’s post, I tend to agree that stuff such as U15, as well as the manga, doujin, anime, etc that caters to “young” love creates an environment in which leads to such things as Enjo Kosai and worse.

    But then you can apply that to a lot of situations… for example, a girl is raped in America, but she was dressed to show it off, and gave off the image of being easy. Does that mean she created the environment for it?

    In a way, this overground commercialiation creates the double standard that is so prevailant in Japan as well. U15 is gross, and child porn, says the Japanese person, but they’re reading their weekly Jump on the way to work with kids pimping their prepubescent bodies.

    While a jump, I’ve always noticed this is how they treat the anime industry as well. You have some people unwilling to realize that it’s a multi-billion dollar industry now, and a huge export, but are “ashamed” of it. But the moment Miyazaki-sensei drops a new movie it’s the national treasure.

    Anyways, this is fast becoming a “chicken or egg” situation, and to most Japanese poeple, it seems they could care less how their country is seen to the rest of the world (same could be said of America and other countries). It’s just unfortunate that the image that they are projecting, and having projected by articles like that makes everyone think that the country is full of anime cosplayers, pillow loving hikkikomori, and easy ditzy japanese girls.

  105. “it seems they could care less how their country is seen to the rest of the world”

    You mean that literally I assume, as opposed to “couldn’t care less.”

    I hsven’t seen much U15, but what disturbs me more is the trend towards sexualisation of the under 10s that goes on in the US (and other areas), such as dressing them sexy and wearing makeup and all. But then I feel much the same about a bikini on a pre-ten girl.

    “I don’t think that evidence supports that.”
    Yeah, I’d need good evidence. It’s all too easy to latch onto the most “obvious cause” even if it isn’t the main cause or even an actual cause. This in itself is problematic, but the real danger is that by going after what the public perceives as the cause to reassure them something is being done, the real causes are left to fester.

    “...the male libido these days”
    These days? If you mean “the past few millennia,” I would agree. Only it hasn’t been until recently that it was quite so illegal: another temptation of course, of the one you can’t have.
    BTW, while prefectures have their own limits, 13 is apparently the nationally set Age of Consent in Japan. Even in the US, 18 is the higher end of the various states, so we can’t treat the age as some sort of magic wand – 17 years 11 months, too young; 18 years 1 day, just right.

  106. If we are going to talk about US promotion of underage sex symbols, we have to mention the Disney Channel. Over the past few years they have promoted all manner of 15 year old boys and girls from Miley Cyrus to the Jonas Brothers to those people from High School Musical. And it’s mostly under the radar as kids entertainment but there is no denying that a lot of the breakthrough power of some artists comes from sex appeal. Its a lot like that South Park episode about the Jonas Brothers – they can only sell sex to kids (and anyone else who might be interested) by wrapping it up in a wholesome package.

  107. BTW, while prefectures have their own limits, 13 is apparently the nationally set Age of Consent in Japan.

    Sort of. Under Japanese law, sex with someone 12 or under equals “rape” (強姦) and carries a minimum penalty of three years with no maximum. Sex with someone 13 to 18 is a different crime called “inducing a child to be engaged in sexual activity” (児童に淫行をさせる行為) which carries a maximum penalty of ten years. You can see the technical nuance between the two crimes, though: the former applies to any sex, while the latter only applies to sex that is “induced,” though that term is not really defined so it could be broadly construed in practice. Rape is defined in the Criminal Code (刑法) while child-sex is defined in the Child Welfare Act (児童福祉法).

  108. “I believe that Katayama is bilingual. Perhaps you should contact her when you have difficulty with your translating work?”

    Katayama translated “Furnace of Young Love,” as in “Teenaged Love” to “Furnace of Child Love.”

  109. I also think that Marxy has a lot of good info about the U15 stuff. However, consider the root of our discussion of it – should it be in the NYT? In place of a fluff piece like the dakimakura one (which probably wouldn’t have pissed anyone off had it not tried to turn fluff into sociology)?

    While I have a feeling that U15 may contribute to sex crimes in some way, I can’t prove this, nor can I think of a way to prove it. It is not something that can really be examined in an empirical way. The most interesting point about U15 that Marxy makes is its legitimization by culture producers and a set of consumers (and we could argue over who they are and how many of them there are all day). That is a discourse thing. I think that U15 would make for a fine academic article or Neojaponisme essay – in the NYT, wouldn’t it just turn into “Hey look, them Japanese are prevs!”? Newspapers and discourse analysis don’t mix, nor should they.

    What I don’t like to see is the widespread assumption that Japanese are “abnormal” sexually. Katayama’s article relies on it. This assumption has created an environment where otherwise reasonable people can believe something silly like 25% of Japanese in their 30s are virgins. When you run some numbers, as with sex assault, rape, child prostitution, etc. it seems that Japan, while having its distinct expressions such as the sailor fuku fetish (which has already been internationalized) isn’t an outlier at all. When marketing a sense of moral superiority – what Adamu mentions at the end of his post – this makes sense. But it isn’t true.

    Adamu makes a great point. I’ve seen some old dudes leering at the exposed midriffs of 15 year old Disney Channel stars. It made me sick at the time, but I didn’t think to compare it t U15 or manga. 10 year olds in belly tops are by no means a rare thing in the Anglosphere at this point. I’m now at an age where I can say “WTF are their parents thinking?” Frankly, I wish that I could ignore most of this.

  110. I’m not really impressed with the charges of pedophilism. The character, Nemu, is 16, not 10. It would have been more interesting if they found someone who was in love with Card Captor Sakura or Ushio from Clannad. Now that will be a true lolicon.

  111. Re: comments about Katayama’s Japanese ability. It is clear from her blog that she speaks Japanese very well. What is not so clear is how well she reads it. There is very little discussion of the content of Japanese materials that have not been translated into English on her blog or in other writings. This doesn’t mean that she can’t read Japanese, just that she has not been focusing on untranslated materials.

    In the NYT piece, she didn’t do a good job. I recall that she mentioned –
    “One of the biggest best sellers in the country last year was “Health and Physical Education for Over Thirty,” a six-chapter, manga-illustrated guidebook that holds the reader’s hand from the first meeting to sex to marriage.”

    30歳の保健体育
    http://www.amazon.co.jp/30%E6%AD%B3%E3%81%AE%E4%BF%9D%E5%81%A5%E4%BD%93%E8%82%B2-%E4%B8%89%E8%91%89/dp/4758011230/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1248850706&sr=8-2

    First, this was released in late November, so while it was a surprise hit, it didn’t rank with the bestsellers last year at all. There is also another numbers / evidence problem here. The book ranked 10th for Japanese books on Amazon.co.jp for the first 5 months of this year. This is not really surprising – it is where nerds buy their porn becuase they are too ashamed to buy something like this in person. Becoming an Amazon bestseller means something. It does not, however, mean that it was one of the “biggest best sellers in the country last year.” This is another example of taking a niche thing and turning it into something that it is not.

    Second, she didn’t get the joke – the cover advertises that it is a way to 脱魔法使い – this is that silly “magical virgins” trope that I’ve mentioned a number of times before. This isn’t a serious book at all – what it is a tongue in cheek moe ripoff of the long time sex guide manga “Futari Ecchi” being presented as something that normal guys need.

  112. That’s some pretty flaccid linguistic dick-swinging there. Just because she misses some societal nuance doesn’t mean she can’t read well. I think Katayama has a number of deficiencies as a journalist but I don’t doubt that she can function perfectly well in (what I assume is) her native language.

  113. Great post, it’s kind of ironic that a foreigner (in Japan) is challenging a Japanese (in San Francisco) for sensationalistic stereotyping.

  114. Personally I am not worried about the author’s personal language skills. They are divorced from the final product. When I looked into those two figures, two of the government sources I used were in English, so in theory that has nothing to do with it.

    We don’t ask whether Obama’s Persian-language YouTube messages mean he can speak Persian, but we don’t doubt it comes from his direction or that he is responsible for their accuracy. And that is the same principle I would apply to Katayama – authors are responsible for the final product. Reporters are responsible for putting together a story, not for being James Bond man of mystery. So I can deal with judging a story on its accuracy without worrying about the linguistic authenticity of the author. That’s how I can get through reading The Economist’s Japan content even though I am sure not all the authors are not fluent in Japanese.

  115. Oh, just wanted to point out the approving treatment this post got from the Mozu blog:

    http://rockhand.cocolog-nifty.com/blog/2009/07/nemut.html

    NYTの「二次元コンプレックス」記事に関するMTGのAdamuさんのポスト。Japan probeのJamesさんも作成に協力されています。この記事の問題点としてかなり特異な人物を採り上げて誤った統計情報を紹介することでそれが一般的な現象であるかのような印象を与えてしまう点を指摘しています。やや長文ですが、充実していますのでおすすめしておきます。こうして奇妙な報道には批判の声が英語圏であがるようになっているのはありがたいことですね。

    WaiWai記事からの転用なのか政府統計の意図せざる誤読なのか分かりませんが、Tokyo Mangoのノリで記事書いたのはまずかったですね。個人ブログとNYTはやはり違うと思うんですよ。たぶんデスクの注文に忠実に応じたといった話なんでしょうし、実際、このレベルの記事はけっこう目にしてきたので個人的には、はあ、そうですか、あなたの日本って変人ばかりで楽しそうですね、私の日本はも少し真面目な人が多くてちょっとしんどいんですけど、ぐらいの感想なのですが、こういうどうでもいいニュースばかりでなく一般にNYTの日本報道のレベルの低さー「最低」といっていいでしょうーはどうにかしないといけないと思うのですね、米国の知性の面目にとっても。ともかく単に日本名であるという理由で素質のない人にジャーナリストごっこさせるのは止めて欲しいものですね。他にもいますよね。

  116. I can definitely imagine being turned down for a senior executive position 20 years from now because some Google-powered analytic tool associates my name with the word “dick-swinging.” Still, I think it’s an apt term for what often goes on in our comment threads.

    No worries, though. By the time Katayama gets back from her vacation, this thread will be too long for anyone to read anyhow.

  117. ”That’s some pretty flaccid linguistic dick-swinging there.”

    What was? The book just plain isn’t like what she’s saying. It is a joke manga porno. I have no idea if she can read it well or not and didn’t say that she couldn’t, I have a suspicion, however, that she didn’t look at the book at all. Having looked over some info about it online, I think that presenting it as serious and as a sign of a social trend would be equal to mistaking the “Daily Show” for a normal US news broadcast. I don’t think that saying that someone “didn’t do a good job” of looking at “untranslated materials” in one article is linguistic dick-swinging.

    In any case, it is, as Adamu mentions, the final write-up is that counts. The book in question isn’t either a serious guidebook or one of the bestsellers of the last year and combined with Nemutan as phenomenon, it certainly doesn’t make me think any more of the article.

  118. “No worries, though.”

    Yes, just call it “normal” or “conventional” dick swinging and we all walk away happy. Ha.

    I intended this to cover my ass, BTW, “This doesn’t mean that she can’t read Japanese, just that she has not been focusing on untranslated materials.”

    I’m not out to gore Katayama to death here. I’m in the business of Japanese books, she mentioned one that I hadn’t heard much about, and I looked into it.

  119. “That’s some pretty flaccid linguistic dick-swinging there. Just because she misses some societal nuance doesn’t mean she can’t read well. I think Katayama has a number of deficiencies as a journalist but I don’t doubt that she can function perfectly well in (what I assume is) her native language.”

    I’m sorry but I’ll be stealing that phrase. But you are wrong about one thing – she isn’t dealing with one language here, shes dealing with two – English and Japanese. Being proficient in one doesn’t mean that you’ll be proficient in the other. And as was mentioned, having a strong speaking ability does not translate to being a strong reading ability, I would know, I can’t speak worth a damn :)

    Still, you are right that picking on someones language skills is a low blow, its more likely the usual suspect – poor research and sources. 2nd and 3rd hand information without credible sources will always destroy a good story. I wouldn’t say that her language ability is irrelevant – we’re talking about her interviewing people, referencing books that are in Japanese. I’d want to to be able to understand no just what is being said, but the nuance and emotion behind it.

    “What I don’t like to see is the widespread assumption that Japanese are “abnormal” sexually.”

    I agree – I think that Japan has some subtle differences in the general population – love hotels being a good example. At the other end of the scale you have all sorts of fetishes and sexual interests that may not be unique to Japan, but maybe just a little more prevalent – for example shibari is similar yet different to BDSM - yet Japan still has BDSM (... so maybe shibari isn’t even BDSM… I think thats my deep ecchi thought for today).

    I can think of plenty of interesting topics I could write about, and SHOULD write about regarding this side of Japan – the interesting and erotic without being nasty, shocking or disturbing. Hell, my girlfriend recently sold one of her summer school uniforms for US$2000 – shes still got 3 left, I’m waiting to see what kind of an offer she gets!

    Wonder if the NYT would carry that story!

  120. “Hell, my girlfriend recently sold one of her summer school uniforms”

    You mean, OLD summer school uniforms, right?

    Just curious Anon, are you a guy? From your earlier comment concerning stomping chikan, I assumed that you were a woman protecting yourself. So are you a foreign guy who used to spot chikan and toss them off the train? That sounds like a story you should share!

  121. Old uniform, she’s out of university now so I’d consider it a little vintage ;) The guy apparently wanted it for cosplay for his girlfriend… I’m expecting it’ll pop up on an underground porn site eventually :

    I’m a guy in my mid twenties, work for a Japanese company and have almost exclusively Japanese friends – partly because I rarely spend much time with other foreigners (not counting the naturalised Chinese and Koreans at work) and because my interests puts me in places where the only foreigners tend to be tourists (unfortunately).

    As for chikans, I lived in Saitama and rode the keihin-tohoku line for a few years. At some of the main stations – mainly Ueno, Tokyo and Hamamatsucho (I’d suspect Shinagawa as well) on occasion one of three things would happen – you’d have a woman speak up, shout or scream something, or, they would tell someone close to them, or, they would try and drag the man off themselves. In all three cases the suspected perp would almost always shout back and get physical, usually pushing to get out or pushing the woman away, and usually you’d have men close by grab the guy and drag them off the train to conductors.

    Only a few times have I dragged someone off the train myself, and only once was there a guy who was so determined to do a runner I had to pin him to the ground (and got a light telling off by the police.. oops). Two most memorable occasions was being thrown into a wall by a guy trying to do a runner (guy came out of nowhere running down the platform and shoved me aside – I was in shock – this is Japan!!), and one bold fellow who jumped from the platform and ran down the track. That one made the papers, was one hell of a delay and the police responding scarily fast and in massive numbers for just one guy.

    Nothing is more fun than arriving 15minutes late, striding up to your bosses desk and announcing in a loud voice “Sorry I’m late, I was handing a chikan over to the Police” :D

  122. “Sorry I’m late, I was handing a chikan over to the Police”

    That’s one phrase you do not want to say wrong in Japanese….
    “Sorry I’m late, I was being handed over to the police as a chikan”

    I guess now we know the answer to the old riddle: Why did the chikan cross the (rail)road?

  123. Adam, good work here. I have been bothered by several of this person’s articles and posts in the past and this was the final nail in the coffin. She is simply not someone who can be taken seriously in terms of writing on Japan.

  124. Well done Adam, good stuff! I hope the NYT picks this up and realises that printing this woman’s shockingly poor material undermines their credibility.

  125. Using the tone of the piece as an excuse not to respond to legitimate questions of fact is kind of a cop-out. That goes doubly if she is referring to the comments that follow the main article or other articles that linked to this one (though I’ll admit some did venture into “angry mean hate” territory that wasnt warranted).

    I didnt think I was being mean. In fact I went out of my way to try and be charitable despite my disappointment when I found the figures were not accurate. Really, that was my overriding concern because I am interested in social issues like Japan’s demographic problem.

    She was initially helpful in letting readers know the source of her findings (though I already knew where they likely came from through a google search), and when I checked them out they didn’t add up. That was the main content of what I wanted to get out there, plus my own reaction to the piece which is that placing Nisan front and center gives an extremely skewed version of the real situation in Japan which might be entertaining but misinforms readers.

    At any rate, I dont think my concerns are the most important in this situation. I wonder if she felt that Nisan’s comments that “no one told him the article would be on the web” and that “his life is over” were too mean to respond to? And actually, I don’t need her to respond to what I said – I am satisfied that I was right and stand by my interpretation of the story.

    http://twitter.com/love_nemu/status/2797550019
    http://twitter.com/love_nemu/status/2819389690

    I actually agree with Katayama to a certain extent – it would be mean to go after her too harshly or angrily, and basically what I am pointing out are small (but important) errors. I am a little surprised that someone in the public sphere has such thin skin. As Cenk Uyghur at the Young Turks would say, “That’s life in the big city.”

  126. Frankly, this sounds much too much of much ado about nothing.

    I understand there is journalistic intregrity to uphold here, but Lisa is Japanese and she is well-heeled (having been translating for WIRED JAPAN and other sites since something like 2001).

    When it all comes down to it, it’s an article about a dude hugging a pillow… how seriously does it have be taken?

  127. ”When it all comes down to it, it’s an article about a dude hugging a pillow… how seriously does it have be taken?”

    Not much.And so shouldn’t be the NYT,at least it’s Japan report.

  128. Made in DNA,

    Katayama’s ethnicity, affluence (?), or the fact that you’ve met her have no relevance here. As she herself has pointed out, she is human, therefore as prone to errors as anyone. Fair enough. However, her failure to either acknowledge her mistakes or convincingly defend her research doesn’t exactly do wonders for her credibility, nor does painting any and all criticism as “mean”.

    If it was just an article about a dude hugging a pillow as you say, it obviously wouldn’t generate this amount of analysis (and it would be even more difficult for the NYT to justify printing it). Using an extreme of a notorious self-promoting exhibitionist to prove the existence of a “thriving subculture” and using obviously erroneous statistics to suggest it is anything more than a microscopic social trend is what I have a problem with, not Katayama herself.

  129. I think that it is the criticism of her work that is the problem –
    “To those who like to question the authenticity of journalists…”

    “People get mad and question the authenticity of my sources.”

    “But it’s not my job to monitor how people read into things or to divulge my sources to the world.”

    “Like all professional writers, I only use primary sources unless they’re absolutely unavailable… The NY Times has a fact-check department, and they’ll correct anything that’s wrong.”

  130. “I don’t need her to respond to what I said”

    The best way to respond to your comments would have been to say “Thank you very much for pointing out the errors in the article. I will have the online version changed and be more careful in the future. I hope that you will continue to read my work.”

  131. I don’t think the mutant frog post was mean or hateful. However, some of the comments are certainly out of line.

    I think Lisa should clearly state the source for the statistics, unless of course it is some government official speaking on the condition of anonymity because he/she is not authorized to comment on the sex life of 30-year old Japanese citizens and will be shamed into ritual suicide if she reveals her source. ;)

    Why? Because a statistic is absolutely meaningless without corresponding information on how is was calculated and on how the data were collected.

    While a piece on quirky subculture in the NYT mag is not on the same level as, for example, the IPCC report (since I assume Lisa’s writing is not going to influence governmental policy), tossing out statistics that no one can verify is only asking for trouble if the statistic is linked to something that a significantly large (or loud) group of people consider controversial.

    It would seem that Lisa’s NYT piece is considered controversial by either a large or loud group of people who have questions regarding statistics because they (correctly or not) believe the use of said statistics misleads the reader.

    BTW, did you know that 95% of scientists believe that global warming is liberal BS?

  132. The Young Turks takes on 2D Love story, expresses justifiable disgust at Nisan and the others, notes that its a TINY TINY minority of Japanese men but thinks this subculture should be nipped in the bud before it grows:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zCLZ8YgDl6g

    Perhaps it is best to think of this as a broadly historical anecdote and not worry about the minor details.

  133. Sadly they did not reference this article in favor of noting that the foreign media have reacted in horror to the existence of Nisan.

  134. And here is a forum for “politically conscious Asians” that talks about the article:

    http://forums.yellowworld.org/showthread.php?s=50dec49b6753ef44dd0beeab2f5e9a76&p=566353#post566353

    Here’s one interesting post talking about yours truly:
    “So yeah, some random fact-checking white expat dude came forward and proved to have teh superior knowledge of Japan, making any prior knowledge she has on her own culture in her own country, that she was born in obsolete??! ”

  135. Wow, yeah, because I am an expert on everything about my country simply as I was born there, and my PhD in a field of Japanese studies doesn’t give me the right to be an expert in any aspect of Japan at all. I have looked at Yellow World before, and find it pathetic that so many sites supposedly dedicated to combating racism end up being just as racist.

  136. Our comments section compares much better to the one attached to her own Boing Boing post imo bc we have people challenging the bullshit charges against her character

  137. Adamu: that link durectly to the forum doesn’t work. Which forum is it?
    I did find this fun sarcastic bit about wanna-bes:————————-
    Japanophile in Korea: Why doesn’t anyone understand me when I speak Japanese here?
    Me: Because you’re in Korea.
    Japanophile: They were once part of Japan. Why do they hate being Japanese?

  138. “...challenging the bullshit charges”

    It’s possible she took one look at “flaccid linguistic dick-swinging” and decided nothing here was any good.

  139. Speaking of Cenk, here’s his take.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zCLZ8YgDl6g&feature=channel_page

    I agree with a lot that have been said here, but for some reason I wasn’t caught up in the pedophilia thing as others posters here. The attraction to teen anime characters doesn’t seem as yucky even if I subtract me being Japanese and having some knowledge about this subject.

    As Cenk pointed out in his video, for him, the pillow character looks 10~11 year old, conjuring up the notion of inhumanity. But from my eyes, there’s no way a character with such proportions is drawn up with a child in mind (maaaybe mid-teens, a slightly different issue). I think Japanese men in general (me included) look younger, and also prefer a higher ratio of kawaii:bijin women than, say Europeans. The tolerance level for young-looking mates is higher. Look at the queen of cutesy-ness, Ogura Yuko (who is 25) and some will think she’s 12. I don’t think anyone that dates Ogura Yuko thinks that they’re dating a 12 year old—just kawaii. My intuition is that Nii-san is “dating” the pillow case at a smaller age difference than people realize, so I’m not as hot on the bus to scream “child pseudo-molestation!” And again, he’s already an old man so…

    Anyways, I think we can all agree that U15 type stuff is repulsive, but in terms of doing something about it, things may face an uphill battle (not to mention complications with freedom of speech and moe culture).

  140. Adamu, you / we have been denounced in a Japan Probe comment –
    “This fact checking sounds more like there are a few geeks who wish they didn’t love their pillows so much. ”

    Ouch.

  141. The forum is for a US site called Yellow World, which is dedicated to getting “Asians” organized as a political interest group.

    I am not sure if that comment was totally serious but its interesting to see that kind of thinking.

    And I have noticed a couple commenters defending Katayama by calling me or other critics losers who “need to get laid.” I havent really seen that so much before in other cases, so I wonder if it has to do with the fact that I am criticizing an attractive woman with a lot of male fans.

  142. The only thing anybody actually ASKED Lisa Katayama to respond to was the exact source of her quoted statistics. I think that’s perfectly reasonable.

  143. Adamu: I think it is because of the topic, of people who can’t/won’t get laid, and the assumption that anyone criticising an article about them is the same sort of person.

  144. I don’t think bringing in links to some random forum where a single person posts a critical comment is a really good idea. All that will lead to is a lot of back and forth trolling, which is exactly what we want to avoid.

  145. That said, I can’t resist posting this comment that a Chinese-American friend of mine sent me regarding the Yellow World site literally at the moment I posted the above comment:

    “The last time I checked, the last group that tried Pan-Asianism killed millions of Asians.”

  146. “Isn’t it about time you disclose your love of moe pillows?”

    Adam’s wife will be so sad when she finds out that she’s really a cotton/polyester blend. It really makes all that money spent on her graduate degree seem like a waste.

  147. apeescape:

    “Anyways, I think we can all agree that U15 type stuff is repulsive, but in terms of doing something about it, things may face an uphill battle (not to mention complications with freedom of speech and moe culture).”

    You would think that the current child pornography laws (which says that material that “depict, in a way that can be recognized visually, such a pose of a child relating to sexual intercourse or an act similar to sexual intercourse with or by the child” are illegal) would be enough to put a damper on U15 stuff, but apparently not.

    Its also interesting to note that possession of child pornography is NOT illegal in Japan – you can only be charged for production and distribution. They are working towards making possession illegal, but with the government changing every other day this takes a while.

  148. They are working towards making possession illegal, but with the government changing every other day this takes a while.

    This is actually more controversial than you might expect because of the necessary line-drawing when drafting criminal law. For instance, if you have a photo of your own baby naked, is that child pornography? (I recall a Perry Bible Fellowship comic on this theme but can’t find it now…)

  149. Wouldn’t the “relating to sexual intercourse” bit would help there? I mean, a photo of a naked four-year-old at the beach or in the bath is not likely to look like it is “relating to sexual intercourse”. Which is why child pornography laws must deal with sexualization rather than merely how much the kid is wearing.

  150. “For instance, if you have a photo of your own baby naked, is that child pornography?”

    This has actually been a huge issue in the US- before digital cameras took over there were multiple cases of parents being arrested after photo labs reported them for requesting prints of naked kids, when it was just parents innocently taking photos of their own kids frolicking around. I even saw one of those shitty Lifetime Channel movies on exactly this scenario back in college when I was ultra bored one day.

    The NYT just did an interesting feature partially related.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/16/garden/16nudity.html?hp=&pagewanted=all

  151. “Which then begs the question: What do you do about Saaya Irie photobooks?”

    Personally I try to just avoid them. But this fetishization of youth is, as has been mentioned earlier on the thread, very much NOT a Japan only phenomenon. For example, I remember seeing a mention on some news website recently that Emma Watson (Hermione in Harry Potter) had done a sexy photoshoot to celebrate turning 18, and then when I tried to google that, I instead turned up this creepy post (http://news.sawf.org/Gossip/49973.aspx) about paparazzi getting a shot of her panties at her 18th birthday party! (Just to be clear, I was trying to find that photo gallery for the purposes of this discussion. But I didn’t even find it in the flood of pervy celebrity stalker sites.)

    Incidentally, I saw the new Harry Potter last night and enjoyed it despite the lack of panty-shots.

  152. The PROTECT Act, stiffened child pornography laws in the US to include drawings and computer illustrations. Minimum penalty for possession is 5 years. The subject does not need to be naked if the image is obviously sexually suggestive in nature using the “I know it when I see it” test to identify porn. And conversely, an image of a naked child is not necessarily porn.

    Recently there was the first successful PROTECT Act prosecution in the US for possession of legal-in-japan manga (can’t be bothered to search for the news article – proly saw it on CNET).

    I didn’t see this at all in the Japanese news, but if it continues to happen (which it likely will), it will eventually get picked up by the masu komi I think.

    My thinking on U15 stuff is that Japan, as it often does, will follow the US eventually and create a similarly worded law. This may happen on its own or may be prompted when average folk start seeing news about how legal Japanese manga is child porn in the US.

    Or maybe not

  153. “What do you do about Saaya Irie photobooks?”

    How is she posed? Erotically or naturally? But I would not consider this a major issue anyway, as the whole thing about her was her big tits and so someone liking her would probably take one look at the flat 12 year olds around and lose interest. Is there a lot of U15 that features girls who don’t look very mature for their age? That is, I get the impression (with no actual research into what is shown in U15 admittedly) that while the age of the girls may be made an issue, they are generally physically mature or maturing, and not the 6 year old targets of the really dangerous child porn.

  154. “Recently there was the first successful PROTECT Act prosecution in the US for possession of legal-in-japan manga (can’t be bothered to search for the news article – proly saw it on CNET).”

    That was NOT a successful prosecution, it was a scared guy being bullied into pleading guilty to avoid a trial. I think everyone agrees that when challenged in court properly this law will fold under the 1st Amendment like all of the similar laws that tried to outlaw similar images. As I understand it, the courts have shown time and time again that the legal justification for outlawing child pornography is that its creation requires harm towards children, and that even CG “virtual” child porn is constitutional, regardless of how disgusting it may be.

  155. “The PROTECT Act, stiffened child pornography laws in the US to include drawings and computer illustrations.”
    And that is something I have HUGE issues with. Pencil or CG images of child or child-like characters having sex are personally revolting, however they are not actual children. There is no victim. No actual, physical sex crime has taken place. And the laws have been used to prosecute based on written words, not only pictures. I don’t remember exactly where or when I saw it, but there was a US case in the news months ago where some of the counts of possession of child porn (and the individual in question did possess actual child porn on his computer) used against an individual were based on the contents of his “diary” or “journal” where he wrote down his fantasies. Those writings were investigated to determine if they were recordings of actual events, and it was determined they were not. Still, it was “child porn”.

    This is getting into the realm of “thought crimes”. People are being prosecuted and having their lives ruined not based on what they did, but what they may have thought about in the privacy of their own homes. And it is selective – if you write a work of fiction about sex with children, you’re a pedophile, but if you write about a murder you are not a murderer? Doesn’t make sense to me.

    And yes, I know the standard argument: If someone looks at child porn they will become desensitized and eventually act out. So, why don’t we arrest the police, prosecutors and juries who look at the evidence during the trials? Porn aside, cops see sick and twisted things all the time – why are they allowed to wander the streets? Surely they become desensitized over time and will become dangers to society! I trust everyone can see how ludicrous these arguments are – which is the whole point.

  156. According to the Wiki article:
    “The first conviction of a person found to have violated the sections of the act relating to virtual child pornography, Dwight Whorley of Virginia, was upheld in a 2-1 panel decision of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in December 2008.[10]. This was in apparent contradiction to a previous U.S. Supreme Court ruling that stated virtual child pornography was protected free speech.”

    So, the relevant clause in the PROTECT act has not yet been tested by the Supreme Court, although I imagine that this case will be appealed.

  157. It may make sense to move this discussion to a new thread, since the logical progression from Lisa Katayama to kiddie porn may not be obvious to first-time viewers.

  158. Japan’s social environment is extremely flawed and has led to it having the lowest birthrate in the world. The lowest birthrate ever recorded for a modern society nonetheless. Turning a blind eye to it by pointing out small flaws in the article and ignoring the greater issue is unwise.

  159. Successful depends on your point of view. The prosecutor succeeded in winning a conviction. That is what I mean by successful.

    And you are correct about “virtual”. In fact, I just learned that the illustration portion was ruled unconstitutional by the judge. They prosecuted the guy on obscenity charges not child porn. I just read the ruling on not dismissing the charges:

    (But under the protect act U15 stuff like could still be illegal even if the child is fully clothed but erotically posed – which was really my point)

    “Subsections 1466A(a)(1) and (b)(1) require the visual depictions be obscene and thus must satisfy the Miller standard. Because subsections 1466A(a)(2) and (b)(2) do not require the visual depictions be obscene, and those subsections of the statute restrict protected speech, the Court finds those sections are constitutionally infirm and cannot form the basis of a charge under the superseding indictment.

    The superseding indictment alleges sufficient facts to support counts charging violations
    of 18 U.S.C. § 1466A(a)(1) and (b)(1). Thus, the defects in subsections 1466A(a)(2) and (b)(2) do not necessitate dismissal of the superseding indictment in this case. The determination of what constitutes obscenity is a determination to be made by the trier of fact in this case.

    Accordingly, the Court finds the pending motion must be denied in part and granted in part. Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss (Clerk’s No. 45) is denied, with the exception of any prosecution under subsections 1466A(a)(2) and (b)(2) as to which the motion is granted.

    Case 1:07-cr-00030-JEG-RAW Document 59 Filed 07/02/2008 Page 18 of 18”

  160. “It may make sense to move this discussion to a new thread, since the logical progression from Lisa Katayama to kiddie porn may not be obvious to first-time viewers.”

    Perhaps indeed, though if someone actually made it all the way to the bottom…

  161. Getting away from the nitty gritty details of the anti-child porn legislation for a moment….

    I have been in contact with the author via email today and she gave me the answer I was looking for – she got the two stats from an interview with one of her sources. As she was gracious enough to contact me directly, I think that answer is sufficient for the time being.

    It isn’t all that surprising. As often happens, perfectly intelligent and reasonable people will repeat second-hand information that they recall reading somewhere. In this case it turned out to be wrong. This is exactly how “Beltway conventional wisdom” forms and becomes perpetuated.

  162. Reality:

    If you look more closely you’ll see I am not ignoring this issue at all – I am discussing it. Getting an accurate assessment of what is going on is fundamental to finding answers.

  163. “Japan’s social environment is extremely flawed and has led to it having the lowest birthrate in the world. The lowest birthrate ever recorded for a modern society nonetheless.”
    Actually there are several countries with a lower birthrate than Japan, although Japan is one of the lowest.

    “Turning a blind eye to it by pointing out small flaws in the article and ignoring the greater issue is unwise.”
    This is a common fallacy, the name of which I don’t recall. The classic example is “why are you worrying about the problems of other countries when there are still things wrong in your own?” Just because there is a larger problem it doesn’t follow that you should ignore small problems also, as long as you keep some level of perspective. This week, we are discussing some very specific problems in one article but it’s not like this is all we do here.

  164. “Successful depends on your point of view. The prosecutor succeeded in winning a conviction. That is what I mean by successful.”
    It’s certainly a win for the prosecutor, but it doesn’t actually say anything about the strength of the law itself, that’s all I meant. But I think you understood that anyway.

    As for a new thread- I’m sure we’ll have another thread some time in the future more on this topic. I don’t particularly want to say, look over U-15 material or god-forbid U-10 material to write something about it myself, but it would be interesting to translate a good Japanese op-ed piece on the topic some time, for the sake of discussion.

  165. Reality is also missing the fact (reality) that out of a laundry list of problems that cause a low birth rate – lack of stable employment, maternity leave, daycare, child support, immigration rates, etc. Nemutan just does not rate very highly. What we have done here (see above for my virginity comparison between Japan and America) is try to keep otaku where they belong – in a discussion of subcultures, rather than an explanation for social problems.

    BTW, we had a doozy of a discussion about immigration and Japan’s future here last year – you should look at some past posts.

  166. Adam, you might want to add the response from Lisa to the original post, so people don’t have to notice it buried in the soon to be 200+ comments.

  167. Geeksugar: You seem to have an endless supply of amazing gizmos and off beat news, without revealing your secrets and sources, please tell us about your experience and how you came to love Japanese culture and gadgets so much.
    Lisa: I was born and raised in Tokyo, so Japanese culture and gadgets are just a part of my existence. It was only when I started working at Wired that I realized that people considered things like Tokyo street trends and novelty gadgets to be newsworthy. I started Tokyomango as a dumping ground for stories that wouldn’t get published in the magazine, and also for a place to debunk common myths and sensationalized conceptions of Japanese pop culture and lifestyle. A lot of people write about Japan, but most of them aren’t Japanese.

    http://www.geeksugar.com/536570

    (insert vomiting sound here)

  168. I have a feeling that we’ll be swinging it all the way toward a new comment record tomorrow!

  169. “A lot of people write about Japan, but most of them are Japanese, writing in Japanese, for a Japanese audience.”

    “....a place to debunk common myths and sensationalized conceptions of Japanese pop culture and lifestyle.”
    Indeed…..?

  170. You would be surprised how often conversations like this end up happening –
    Student – I’m here to ask about my B-.
    M-Bone – Sure, have a seat.
    Student – What did you mean when you wrote “blah blah footnotes”
    M-Bone – For example, when you wrote about what Oda Nobunaga thought before the Battle of Unkoyama you have to use a footnote to show where you got that information. How do you know what he was thinking?
    Student – But I understand what he was thinking, I’m Asian!

  171. Does that mean I can take a bible class and say “of course I know what Jesus was thinking- I’m Jewish!” ?

  172. She has a point that there isn’t much of a Japanese voice at the table when it comes to discussing Japan in English. As far as I can tell she grew up in Tokyo and has two Japanese parents, so she counts although her perspective does seem more or less westernized.

  173. Here’s another gem.

    Elliot: You contribute to a plethora of sites, yet there has to be a favorite, which one’s yours and why?

    Lisa: Tough question. I love Boing Boing, and I love TokyoMango—my two main blogging gigs right now—but I still love writing for print magazines the most. There’s just something special about seeing your work on glossy color paper in a book full of work by other amazingly articulate people.

    http://www.bornrich.org/entry/cool-geek-of-the-week-lisa-katayama/

    Slight tangent: If I called her “articulate,” would she call me a racist? Something tells me “yes.”

  174. I don’t see anything weird about that last quote Joe. I think you’re over-interpreting.

  175. Perhaps. It just struck me as really smug. I didn’t want to hate on Lisa initially, because I wasn’t familiar with her and wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt. Now, as I read more, I really see her insecurity jump out of the pages.

    I reckon she is totally peeved that amateurs (and non-Japanese amateurs at that) have shot holes through her glossy professional journalism, which is why she has blown all of this off in public.

    All this out of the way, if she said something non-dismissive in public about the mistakes, I would be forced to retract these opinions; after years of blogging, I have no ego left to destroy.

  176. No, I see it: “work by other amazingly articulate people” vs “work by amazingly articulate people”.

    The misuse of commas and punctuation really bugs me in those quotes….

    And I wonder what weapons were used in the Battle of Unkoyama….

  177. Not sure you can read much into punctuation in an interview. Who knows if it was transcribed from a recording?

  178. “Turning a blind eye to it by pointing out small flaws in the article and ignoring the greater issue is unwise.”

    South Korea has lower birth rate than Japan but it seems they have achieved that goal without the help of the pillows.

    On NYT fact check department:

    “The NY Times has a fact-check department, and they’ll correct anything that’s wrong.”

    Then why is Fackler still writing?Either the department doesn’t operating the way it should be or they just don’t get serious on japan report.

  179. “Who knows if it was transcribed from a recording?”

    Yeah, but then whoever transcribed it didn’t do a good job. Anyway, sidetrack over.

    And do we know that Sth Korea doesn’t have at least one guy who hugs a pillow on the train? By NYT journalism standards, that’s enough to explain the birthrate, no?

  180. Well, I’m done bashing Lisa for now. We made it past 200 comments and the pillory is smelling of too many rotten vegetables. Time to prepare it for its next victim.

    I am wondering about Adamu’s comment that “there isn’t much of a Japanese voice at the table when it comes to discussing Japan in English.” I think that there is a lot of Japanese voice at the table, although it depends on your definition of the term and the venue which you’re examining. It’s true that our corner of the blogosphere has few Japanese contributors, other than Aceface, Gen and a couple of mostly-lurkers, but if you look at the mass media, the NBR list or other “higher-level” fora, or even other groups of blogs, you see many more Japanese names.

  181. I confess, I skipped over most of the tangent topics, but I did complete this race to the bottom.

    Our comments section compares much better to the one attached to her own Boing Boing post imo bc we have people challenging the bullshit charges against her character.

    We also have people challenging the very post you wrote. In the paragraph where you mention the NIPSSR (*not* pronounced “nip-scissor”) survey, you challenge the statement that “25% of Japanese adults between the ages of 30 and 34 are virgins” with what seems to be bogus analysis. You took the number of private households, and assumed that the “single people with no kids aged 30-34” equals “one-person private household”s, which would give you the 34% (1,351/3,874) and 54% (2,116/3,874) numbers you wrote.

    But that’s assuming that there are zero men or women aged between 30-34 included in other households as children of the head of household. Is that right? I’ve been looking at these numbers, and I don’t see how one would use the PDF you attached to arrive at any sort of solid counterargument of the statement in question.

    I will concede that she’s not huge on sourcing her factoids, and playing telephone game with a stat, effectively changing “24% of all unmarried men and 27% of all unmarried women surveyed by the NIPSSR in 2005 answered that haven’t had sexual relations with the opposite sex” into “more than a quarter of men and women between the ages of 30 and 34 are virgins”.

    These surveys to me are vague indicators at best. True, a sample of a less than ten thousand can paint a pretty okay picture of what values for the true population are, but when 11% of men and 18% of women between 30 and 34 when surveyed cannot even answer yes or no, then I think there is a material margin of error in terms of being able to make broad statements for a country of over a hundred and twenty million people.

    Forget the stats. What many have pointed out is that Katayama is cherry-picking (no pun intended) some weirdo for a story, and making extrapolations that it represents a thriving subculture. Extrapolations suck. But at the same time I groaned every time your own post used a statement like, “...so I find it very hard to believe that another 15% or so won’t have met someone special in the intervening 10 years,” or “...I am afraid is next to unfathomable.” If you’re all for putting pith in one’s post, then leave out your own conjecture, because it ends up mucking up what I think is a very good bone to be picking.

    I enjoy the blogosphere because there are so many people who instead of writing a “letter to the editor” (which to me has a weakened presence as a forum for these sorts of grievances) will take journalists to task with their own articles. Doris “Tanta” Dungee of CalculatedRisk was marvelous at it, and some of the point and counterpoint following Matt Taibbi’s recent Rolling Stone piece on Goldman Sachs were ‘entertaining’ reads as well.

    But you could have blown holes in Katayama’s piece after (1) checking your own numbers, (2) contacting the writer in question to find out why she bothered to throw in factoids that weren’t sourced, and (3) after cutting out some of your own frivolous comments (e.g. the whole paragraph about Morinaga. “you know you’ve lost your way…” Wha?)

  182. “Then why is Fackler still writing?Either the department doesn’t operating the way it should be or they just don’t get serious on japan report.”

    Nearing the end (?) of a very long thread, I think that this is probably the most important thing that has come out of all of it. WTF were the NYT editors thinking?

    “I am wondering about Adamu’s comment that “there isn’t much of a Japanese voice at the table when it comes to discussing Japan in English.” ”

    If you mean “mainstream American journalism”, I’d be one the fence about this, but if you include academic writing – just about every topic that you can that of will have at least one Japanese working at an Anglo university among the top 3.

  183. Adamu’s got some stat running to do. I can think of a few ways to go with this and I’ll back you up later today if need be.

    As for my own small contribution to the fact checking of the article – I discovered something interesting about the book in question. The second volume is pretty much exactly how Katayama describes the first in the original article. “A six-chapter, manga-illustrated guidebook that holds the reader’s hand from the first meeting to sex to marriage.” (sold in the “subculture” section of my local bookstore). The funny thing is that it was only released a few days after the NYT piece. The original is more like five pages on relationships and 80 on sexual positions – including star ratings for difficulty! It will be interesting to see how well the more serious / relationship-focused follow-up sells.

    Something for the regulars – while looking into book numbers, I discovered that “Sabestsu to Nihonjin” is a bit of a runaway non-fiction hit – over 100,000 copies in 6 weeks.

  184. I most certainly appreciate the challenge.

    True, I should have mentioned that possibility and probably not cited those percentages so definitively, but I ignored 34 year old man-children because “I found it very hard to believe” it would have an impact.

    If you check page 17 of the PDF, you’ll see the numbers sliced by age and which type of household individuals belong to. Only about 14% of men and women aged 30-34 or around 1.3 million people live in “other relatives households” which would apply if they still lived with their older parents. Another 14% live in one-person households. Since the majority of people live in married nuclear families of some kind, it sets up the same conundrum I mentioned in the post – either ALL these unmarried 30-34 years olds are virgins or we have a lot of unconsummated marriages.

    These numbers might not be perfect but they are the best we’ve got under the circumstances. I think they do give a decent picture of the situation in Japan and they also can track the direction the numbers are heading in.

  185. We should also point out that just becuase you are living with your parents does not mean that you are not married or in a common law relationship (far more rare) as it is by no means uncommon for a Japanese man to take his family into the parental home – especially in the inaka. In addition, people living by themselves may indeed be married and have kids – tanshin funin.

  186. OK, numbers, philosophy, data and blah blah…

    at the end the question should be: Katayama invented this story or Japan family restaurants are full of 3D/2D mixed couples?!

    I think this point should be important to understand if she is a blogger turned into a journalist wannabe or just a lier…

    it’s sad to see BoingBoing posting this story without any comment from bloggers like Doctorow…

  187. If I remember I dont think she ever said that there were other people carrying the pillow around to dates, just others who buy the pillows. And even though she seems to emphasize the blogger/journalist distinction I dont think it really matters.

  188. I am going to wait and see if Peter has a response to my latest comment and then I think I will close comments. 200+ is enough!

  189. God that’s ridiculous:

    MARTIN: How do people feel about this level of commitment to these inanimate objects or characters?

    Ms. KATAYAMA: Oh, I mean, I think a lot of the mainstream would think it’s weird or gross, you know, they’re freaks, but it’s becoming more and more accepted, I think. Not necessarily these pillow guys, but this culture of, like, of being really passionate about anime and manga. I mean – and actually in Japan, like, we’ve – you know, every kid grows up watching anime or reading manga.

    MARTIN: How common is it to see grown men walking around with these pillows?

    Ms. KATAYAMA: To be honest, you’re not going to walk, you know, run into somebody picnicking with their pillow, probably. You know, it’s not something that people usually practice out in the open. The guys in my story happen to be ones who are pretty open about it, obviously, because they were open to be interviewed about it. But most of the time it’s something that people would practice at home, or it’s their own little secret.

  190. I really want to hear if that was recorded before or after Adamu’s criticisms were published and this discussion took place.

    “Ms. KATAYAMA: In Japan, you know, there’s been a long tradition of arrangement marriages. So it’s not necessarily like, you know, you fall in love, and then you get married. That’s not necessarily a progression, and I think when it comes to things like romance and intimacy, like, the people aren’t naturally inclined to act in the ways that we assume now that they should act.”

    Percentage of miai kekkon in 1950 – Over 60%
    Percentage of miai kekkon in 2005 – 6.2%
    http://www.mw-personal.jp/kekkoniyoku.html

  191. I find that part interesting for another reason: she implies that she really isn’t Japanese, by talking about “us” assuming how “they” Japanese should act. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing—people often flip their ethnic identity back and forth in different contexts—but it goes against her argument of her exceptionalism as a “Japanese” commentator.

  192. True, I should have mentioned that possibility and probably not cited those percentages so definitively, but I ignored 34 year old man-children because “I found it very hard to believe” it would have an impact.

    How do you know it doesn’t? (More on that below.)

    Only about 14% of men and women aged 30-34 or around 1.3 million people live in “other relatives households” which would apply if they still lived with their older parents. Another 14% live in one-person households. Since the majority of people live in married nuclear families of some kind, it sets up the same conundrum I mentioned in the post – either ALL these unmarried 30-34 years olds are virgins or we have a lot of unconsummated marriages.

    (Hair-split) This is what I can’t agree with. If every person that lived with their parents were thrown into the “other relatives households”, then the statistics for the Under 15 population wouldn’t make any sense. The man, 30-34, that lives with only his parents may be classified as “parents with children” if the three of them are all under the same household, or he may be in “one-person households”, if he has decided that he is his own economic unit, regardless of sharing the same abode. I do not think, from looking at the stats, that he would get bucketed in the “other relatives households” just because his folks are old enough to be somebody’s grandparents. But here’s the rub: I don’t see where you’re going to figure how many unmarried men/women between 30 and 34 are not included in “one-person households”. I also don’t see how you can determine which 30 to 34 year-olds are unmarried, because a married man and woman who decide to live separately will have different households, and if they both live by themselves, they are both bucketed in “one-person households”.

    If you want to arrive at a chainsaw estimate of heterosexual virgins, aged 30-34, using data sampled by NIPSSR, take the population of people that marry for the first time at an age older than 34. According to 6-4, which is data for 2006, this is 19.0% of men and 10.3% of women. Assuming that these are the folks that NIPSSR got its sex experience sample from, you can then argue the estimate that 24% of those men (4.6%) and 27% of those women (2.8%) of the population are virgins.

    The outcome is the same. Her stats are shown to be gase. I’m with Disraeli anyway, in that I think most stats are lies. As for the non-stat part, I guess we’ve quoted some inarticulate parts of an interview with NPR to add to the bruising of her journalistic integrity.

    This is probably enough for now, no?