JANJAN — Media by, for and about the people

I recently came across this great web site, JANJAN — Japanese Alternative News for Justice and New cultures. It’s kind of like Korea’s OhMyNews, which as some of you may know is an Internet-based “citizens’ journalism” site. All the reporters are amateur, and content is regulated through an editing staff and the following of a set of rules called the “Citizen Journalist Code“.

The site, as I learned belatedly, got some international attention when one of its reporters, Imai Noriaki (18 — the link is actually not a story by correspondent Kwan Weng Kin but a translation of a Japanese tabloid story that paints the three abductees in a negative light) was abducted in Iraq and threatened with beheading. While I certainly don’t support the fact the he and the other two abductees (Takato Nahoko and Koriyama Soichiro) needlessly put themselves in harm’s way, the idea of citizens’ journalism is refreshing, especially in a country such as Japan with a relatively controlled, passive, and reactionary media.

Takato giving a speech in Hokkaido in March -- she apologized for her actions in Iraq and gave an account of her experiences

As part of their commitment to civil society, they offer extended coverage of issues affecting Japanese NGOs, politics, and civil society. Due in part to the abduction issue, there is also a substantial amount written about Japan’s involvement in Iraq from the perspective of “career volunteers” such as Takato (pictured above). I was also able to find an extended interview with Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy — the Mainichi story that I translated was rather scant despite his frank and intelligent views on Japan’s ODA policy.

I have yet to peruse the site much as of yet, but it is personally very exciting. One Japanese site that has attracted me before is the infamous 2ch. It’s great that people can express their views, vent frustration, or just play around under the veil of anonymity, but at the same time I see in 2ch a kind of dark underbelly of Japanese thinking. In following the 2ch news, I find no shortage of racial epithets following any story about Korea or China. That is not to mention the suicide pacts, announcements of criminal activity, pointless political pressure (see the Abiru Yuu scandal) and other nastiness that has been spawned from 2ch and message boards like it. I’ve come to conclude that while 2ch is a vast and endlessly interesting phenomenon, it doesn’t look like a productive forum for the development of meaningful civil society in Japan.

I don’t know a lot about OhMyNews except that it has become a major player in the Korean media. Korea, the world’s most Internet-savvy country, seems to have embraced this kind of journalism to the extent that it (or something similar) was instrumental in getting President Roh elected. Is the same possible for Japan? Well, Japan’s Internet connectivity lags behind even the US, with most people electing to use e-mail and web browsing via their cell phones than on PCs.

Anyway, I’ll be exploring the site more as I have time. If there’s room for me to participate I will be sure to even if it is only in the form of comments and translations of stuff on MF. I’ll keep you posted.