The Internet vs. the Media in Japan – now it’s personal

Last week, awards were handed out for the “word of the year,” one of the biggest year-end wrap-up media events in Japan. The recent prizes have been split between the most trivial “ippatsuya” (one trick ponies) and Koizumi-related political drama. This year the top prize was shared between comedian/Miyazaki Prefecture Governor Sonomanma Higashi for his “something’s got to be done about Miyazaki”, and “prince of the cheese-eating grin” (usually translated as “bashful prince” but just look at him). Higashi’s questionably popular declaration indicates his ingenious plan to promote his prefecture by completely and utterly over-exposing himself in the media until his welcome wears out. The Prince, meanwhile, is a talented young golfer who was unwittingly dragged into intense media spotlight after winning a few tournaments. Here’s a quick listing of the runners up:

◆ Disappearing pension records (消えた)年金
◆ “That doesn’t matter” そんなの関係ねぇ a one-liner uttered by a half-naked one-trick-pony that’s not even funny the first time.
◆ Dondake- どんだけぇ~ (The beginning of a line intended to tease someone who’s over-enthusiastic)… see above, except it’s said by a cross-dresser and originated in Shinjuku-nichome gay slang.
◆”The power of insensitivity” 鈍感力 – the title of a best-selling book advising readers not to be “too sensitive”
◆ Fraudulent food (labeling) 食品偽装 Food companies got raked over the coals by regulators late this year for fudging on expiration dates that they knew were too short to begin with. This could also refer to the Made in China food scandals that (mostly) hit the US but were well-reported in Japan.
◆ Internet cafe refugees ネットカフェ難民 – the term for the semi-homeless who spend nights in Internet cafes
◆ Big eater 大食い – Not sure if this is in reference to the recently dethroned hot dog king Shigeru Kobayashi or those TV shows where the young woman eats plate after plate of sushi
◆ Very hot days 猛暑日 – after the hot summer

The list, arbitrarily selected by a committee from a list of reader submissions, seems to only have a memory going back around 6 months, and a highly selective one at that.

But though I understand that this award pays tribute to the spectacles that best gloss over the sadness, cruelty, and frustration of everyday life in this country, I must say the selections this year (save for the “disappearing pension records”) seem to almost willfully ignore the really big developments of this year, even in the realm of media events.

Even in terms of political sideshows, there was no mention of the stupendous problems in the government (Matsuoka’s suicide, the sudden and shocking resignation of Abe, the massive corruption in the Defense Ministry, for starters), nor even the Asashoryu or Kameda scandals despite reams of coverage and massive condemnation (and public interest) in both cases. Judging from the fragile state of all three institutions, one can understand why judges might have wanted to focus attention away from them and more toward fun or at least less testy topics.

In the same vein, the judges decided not to force the media-consuming audience to think back to January, when another vulnerable group was subjected to a major scandal. If we were to truly wrap up the year’s events, it would go without saying that the “Aru Aru Daijiten II” natto scandal would rank way higher than even “that doesn’t matter” in people’s memories… When people learned that the TV lied to them about the health benefits of natto (sticky beans), it may not have convinced them to drop all their food-related superstition-based health consciousness, but for a large group of people it marked a major loss of faith in the media.

Aru Aru, which was gratuitously dishonest and sloppy, may have been the most flagrant single example of media wrongdoing, but it was preceded and has been followed other incidents – more fakery, a misleading statement by morning show host Mino Monta during the Fujiya food scandal, and even reporters’ notoriously bad attitudes (caught on camera screaming at marathon fans, parking illegally, talking trash to commoners).

Though the editors of the Word of the Year decided that this fomenting animosity toward the media wasn’t worth mentioning, I expect such criticism of and animosity toward the news media to further intensify in 2008 (as the media will never fail to provide rage-inducing content). And as a reader of both, it will be increasingly harder to pick sides – what is worse, media institutions that lull the population into a stupor while passing off salivating coverage of the triple murder in Kagawa as a valid news story for a solid week, or the righteous masses of angry Internet users who will turn any slight offense into a target for attack?

10 thoughts on “The Internet vs. the Media in Japan – now it’s personal”

  1. I used to live next door to どんだけぇ~ Ikko in Shimouma. “She” has like a whole party of assistants, some of whom lived in a nearby apartment complex. This was before Ikko was on TV, so I never had any idea who this crossdressing person was other than she kept odd hours and clearly had a lot of money.

    Anyway, yeah, these lists are always like promotions for celebrities rather than any note of linguistic innovation or historical encapsulation.

  2. It is the “word (catchphrase) of the year” after all, and as such, given that the other problems you cite did not give birth to catchy media slogans, it is no surprise that they did not feature in the list. Of course, there is little doubt that these end of year events are less about reflecting on the actual popularity of specific memes, and more about pushing what the media (including the ad agencies) want to promote. But given that all of these memes were created by the media and forced down the throats of consumers and most consumers lapped it up as usual, I guess the distinction is irrelevant.

    And if you are going to talk about Mino, his on-camera behaviour when reporting about that triple murder in Kagawa was outrageous. He all but pointed the finger at the father of the two girls. He clearly thinks he is above reprimand, and judging by the way all the media outlets are falling over themselves to secure his services, it appears that is the case.

  3. You might not find him funny but there’s little doubt that Kojima Yoshio’s catchphrase dominated the airwaves this year. I work in an elementary school and I see and hear the children imitating his routine everyday. By this time next year he’ll probably have faded but for 2007, he is on top.

  4. The “word of the year” is selected by the publisher of “Gendai-Yougo no Kiso Chishiki (現代用語の基礎知識)” that is a dictionary of contemporary jargons. It is commonsense among Japanese that the “word of the year” has little to do with the importance of the events associated with the word.

  5. OK, no it is not surprising that these words of the year are not a list of the most important events. Perhaps its not fair to expect that from this list exactly. But it is one of the most prestigious year end wrap-up events. It’s just funny to see how the list goes out of its way to ignore the aru aru story and the intense fury that is building on the internet toward the entire corrupt system.

    In other news, the “kanji of the year” was 偽 or ‘fake’ – the results of this were determined purely by fan submissions and is administered by the kanji exam association. The explanation lists mainly the food related scandals, but I still think the first food scandal that never gets mentioned is aru aru.

    And in the US, the word of the year is apparently ‘w00t!’

  6. “And in the US, the word of the year is apparently ‘w00t!’ ”

    I have seen the expression w00t for the first time. Is it actually widely used?

  7. I’d say it’s very widely used among online discussions related to games or technology, or in online discussions by people who play games or are into technology. I also don’t think it’s even close to new this year.

  8. Also I think that was only selected because, like so many other online polls, the ballots were stuffed by overzealous w00t fans.

  9. I don’t think 大食い is even new. Hasn’t that term been used for eating competitions for a long time?

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