Interview with the Japanese PM

BBC reporter Chris Hogg has a great first person account of what it was actually like to interview PM Fukuda.

The reason, I am told, is that here the politicians do not actually matter. The country is run by the bureaucrats – the middle managers.

Scripted interview

I was at first a little sceptical of this claim, until I went to the prime minister’s office to interview the previous incumbent, Yasuo Fukuda.

The problem with these kind of encounters is that Japanese civil servants are always terrified that their man might put a foot wrong. They try to leave nothing to chance.

For days before there are tortuous negotiations about what topics might or might not be discussed.When you arrive for the interview, there are more flurries and fuss from the small army of men in suits, who fill the room long before their boss makes an appearance.

On this occasion, they wanted Mr Fukuda to talk about the environment. But they were worried he might not follow the script in his interview with me, so they had written out what they wanted him to say and put it on a teleprompter just behind my left ear.

We pointed out politely that this might look a little unnatural, but they were having none of it.

The prime minister would make a statement before the interview began, they said, to make sure he got all the points in, whether I asked them or not.

“But we won’t use that,” I explained.

No matter, the great man was on his way.

‘Three, two, one, cue PM’

He came in, sat down, was perfectly pleasant, and even had a few words to say in English.

But there was no time for chat. An aide started gesturing from behind my head, and barked out: “Three, two, one, cue PM”.

The poor man started reading from the teleprompter. I had to keep a straight face so as not to put him off. So did he.

It was quite obvious to both of us that this was not going to be used, but he was doing what he was told.

By the time I was given the opportunity to ask my questions, I have to confess the latent, bolshy teenager inside me had emerged.

I noticed he had five pieces of paper with densely typed briefings on his lap, one for each question I was expected to ask.

I started asking them but in the wrong order.

That prompted much harrumphing and agitated shuffling of papers from the audience of advisers clustered around us, but the prime minister, to his credit, soldiered gamely on.

The poor man looked like a puppet though, and the fact that he was clearly an intelligent, talented politician made the whole experience feel that much more depressing.

Anyone know if the preparations for interviews with domestic press are similar?

70 thoughts on “Interview with the Japanese PM”

  1. Short answer is no it is not as scripted, but it doesn’t have to be since the domestic political press is a terribly predictable lot.

    The routine appears to be that the PM gives two press availabilities in the day, one of them taped. Reporters get something like 10 minutes or so to ask questions about the day’s events.

    Interviews with the foreign media are a completely different animal because they tend to be long form and focus on a particular propaganda issue that the Japanese government wants to broadcast to the world. This time the issues appeared to be the Fukuda proposal for sector-based greenhouse emission targets and the concept of Japan as a green technology powerhouse.

    I get the feeling that the infrastructure for dealing with foreign press has been in place for some time, and even though it is a PM’s prerogative how he will address reporters, he has two choices – play it safe and avoid all risk, or risk exposure to the extremely unpredictable process of free discussion with a reporter who’s got nothing to lose (certainly no press club memberships to lord over him) talking through an interpreter. Given the existence of this option (it apparently was not available to Bush when he made his big PR push in Europe and the Mideast earlier this year), who wouldn’t go for it?

    My point is, I think this reporter might be giving the bureaucrats too much credit for their supposed control over the PM. The topic was a major point of Fukuda’s agenda, not theirs. He just bought into their idea of what allowed him to put his best face forward in front of the international press. The fact that a BBC reporter found his experience jarring enough to go on record insulting Fukuda’s tenure as no more than an elaborate photo op for his grandkids just underlines the irony that this risk-free approach is actually pretty risky after all. Japanese leaders are a pathetic joke, says the BBC. That’s a confidence-booster.

    It’s so easy for this guy to be dismissive and complain about the demands of “men in suits” (what did he wear, shorts and flip-flops?), and it might be understandable from someone coming from Britain’s seemingly chaotic parliamentary system. But he and his organization agreed to the terms of the interview, which makes it seem a little inappropriate for them to come out with such a juvenile list of complaints now. If the interview was such a farce, why do it in the first place and give the process such legitimacy? As the story noted, Fukuda’s answers came from well-worn talking points that he had already argued multiple times *on video.* They could have just translated his pressers or Diet testimony.

    And I have my doubts as to whether the alternative approach that I described above would actually benefit either the PM or the global public at large, since basically the men in suits are right — any off-script comments will be taken out of context and require all sorts of cleanup after. There are other methods for world leaders to get their message across (former Pakistani President Musharraf famously wrote a book and did the entire talk show circuit in the US to promote it), but no leaders in Japan have the personal charisma and English ability to pull it off. So sorry guys, you are stuck with this approach.

    The short terms of prime ministers may not exactly reflect well on the country or give it a clear leadership (though I would suggest that strong leadership is not really the only thing or the most important thing Japan needs), but let’s not overstate the implications of one interview’s hyper-sensitive planning.

  2. I think that Hogg`s account shows one reason why Japanese politicians are content to simply game the foreign press – they typically send a bunch of bozos to Japan.

    The BBC article has zero context – I must have missed that Japanese press interview with Tony Blair where they were allowed to ask him if it was the Lord that told him that invading Iraq was a good idea or his wife`s Feng Shui teacher. Gawd, if you want to see a puppet on strings, just watch Bush`s press encounters in Japan.

    This idea of bureaucratic control is something that you find in Wolforen and other 20 year old Japan tomes. Political scholars used to be all over that idea but it went out over a decade ago. Most of the foreign press also switched from the idea that “Japan doesn`t really have a government” to “Japan`s rightwing politicians are going to bring back militarism!” INCLUDING HOGG. Now he goes back to the first flavour of the week approach. Why would Fukuda go off the cuff with someone who knows next to nothing about Japan? Adam makes the excellent point of out of context comments are dangerous and Hogg has a clear record of trolling for those for the BBC over the past few years. A British scholar named Seaton wrote a good article a few years back about the uniformly terrible UK reporting of issues of Japanese nationalism – it is worth checking out. David McNeil also has a good one about the Blackman murder reporting.

    During the Olympics, I noted senior Japanese reporters conducting interviews with Chinese figures in Chinese, popping up all over the country, etc. In Japan, the BBC and others have zero presence outside Tokyo aside from some periodic bleeding heart coverage of dolphins or some such thing. If they want to be taken seriously, they should send some serious Japan people and do it right.

    Adam is 100% correct – this article is juvenile and as long as this attitude directs Japan reporting, we can expect to keep seeing sad hack foreign reporters like Hogg given the run-around and come up with 20 year old essentialist garbage to explain it.

    “Short answer is no it is not as scripted, but it doesn’t have to be since the domestic political press is a terribly predictable lot.”

    But hasn`t it been a ruthless savaging of the LDP that is predictable lately? In online commentary, it is typical to see the Japanese press either being described as having kid gloves, or being like a pack of rabid dogs tearing down governments (NBR has gone this way over the past few days). I`d really like to see someone define a middle path that better explains the Japanese press environment.

  3. I once met someone who was scripted on “his own” comment on the amount of snowfall a few years ago. They already had his comment ready on a signboard before they met him.

    Maybe it’s just culture shock, but people telling other people EXACTLY what to say looks like militant control to me.

  4. NB: I am sorry but your comment is confused in the extreme. Did you meet a weatherman? They usually read from a script when talking about the weather.

    “define a middle path”

    First, can you really argue that the Japanese press is completely unmanageable? The government has a system in place that does a good job of reeling in some of their worst tendencies, to their benefit and credit.

    Just thinking about this logically, the press in Japan has a complex set of motives, most basically on two levels– career advancement for the reporters (cultivating their assignments to get good stories, access etc.), advancement of the institution (getting the stories out there first, getting big scoops, maintaining their reputations, protecting their privileges).

    But at the same time, the media are vulnerable in that they depend on the access as well as on ad revenue for their existence. So they have to keep an eye on the political winds. Right now no one is going broke predicting doom and gloom for the LDP. Back in the Koizumi days people got harshly punished, often with lawsuits, when they failed to fall in line. So some of the worst excesses of the press’s impulses to score points with petty scandals were reined in.

    The story content tends to revolve around a mix of rote repetition of policy releases, horse-race style reporting of how these policies will help the politician or perhaps Japan’s geopolitical standing, “powerful man X said this” type of party politics speculation and an insatiable thirst for scandal.

    Amid this milieu, the government has an organization in place to deal with the press. You are right that recently neither Abe nor Fukuda has done all that well in keeping the press from taking down cabinet members or emphasizing the enormity of some of the major policy failures of the day. From the media’s perspective, this boils down to the enormous amount of traction they are getting from the pension and food issues, which trumps any fears they might have of government backlash. These TV stations and newspapers are crusaders for consumer safety! Add to this the fact that commentators (including this one) have considered a general election “imminent” for the past two years, the insulting treatment they received under Abe, frustration that Japan’s not a major world player, competition from the Internet, and of course the PMs’ dismal approval ratings, which are caused by a lot of the factors I just mentioned.

    A reporter might look at what I just wrote and say “that’s nothing like me” or “here is one exception, so this is total bull” but the way I see it these sorts of things operate on the margins. That is, one example sets the tone for the rest of the group. People learn what is acceptable and either pile on or hold back accordingly.

  5. BTW I do agree that the article is a great and rare first person account. It was interesting and revealing for both sides.

  6. I think one more level of press motivation should be added – the overall ideological direction / project of the media organization as a whole. Asahi is progressive and usually slams government conservatives when they can, Yomiuri seems down on the LDP but big on constitutional reform, etc. They often bend issues in different directions to get the result that they want. To your list of types of reportage, I think that we can also add well-contextualized editorials and feature pieces. They often complement the other spheres well. The better features don`t always end up in the online editions, however.

    I think that the mainstream press is doing a bit more than championing issues like food safety and pensions to win viewers and readers. Food safety and pensions fall into an area where public desire and press motive meet – lots of mainstream Japanese want a wishy-washy socialist northern Europe-esque government with big pork, big public welfare, strict control on companies (cowboy capitalism) and prices, etc. This isn`t just random issue sniping – it is part of a grand structural critique that runs across a variety of media. It is nostalgic, petite-nationalist and deeply sceptical of neo-liberalism and “globalization” (and thus opposed to the Anglo-American vision of what Japan should look like). It also runs radically counter to a lot of government positions and is likely to form the foundation of a defeat of the LDP when (or if) we see one (and it looks damn likely). Isn`t this type of structural probing the “ideal” of reportage rather than a reactionary issue-based approach? It does get contextualized in editorials.

    Had a rather horrifying thought in relation to this Hogg business. If you want to do pro football analysis on TV in the States, you pretty much have to be a hall of fame player or coach. Makes sense, I guess. I wonder why this is an iron rule and yet big US and UK news outlets have pretty much decided that big names like Hogg with little background and less language skill should be doing their Japan/China reportage? It almost seems like sending someone who doesn`t know what a field goal is to cover football.

  7. BTW, I also think that this is very interesting stuff (and despite my being obviously pissed at Hogg`s denigrating approach) I thank you guys for highlighting it.

  8. Sure, there are plenty of different types of stories and there are ideological leanings but I just wanted to point out a few noteworthy factors.

    I think your description of the press is not so incompatible with mine, though I think those “structural critiques that run across a variety of media” are more *evidence* of a herd mentality than a lack of one. Those wishy washy positions tend to be the safe ones and the “contextualized” editorials often seem pretty toothless to me.

    Still, this is a politically fluid time, and people are looking to their media for guidance. Asahi for one has a long editorial series detailing its proposals for reform of the tax code, etc. Efforts like this are both a good-faith attempt to add to the debate AND a shrewd way to bolster reputation.

    But anyway, enough empty posturing. I will try and cite some examples the next time I weigh in.

    I think your TV sportscaster angle is a little off the mark… there are definitely professional sportscasters and sportswriters who were never pro athletes themselves. Keith Olbermann was a lifelong baseball announcer before starting his pundit career, for one. Also, athletes tend to have very short careers which creates this pool of unused talent among retirees. I don’t see the same thing happening with foreign policy wonks.

  9. On an incidental note, the Hogg piece is primarily meant to be heard rather than read. It comes from the venerable BBC Radio 4 programme “From Our Own Correspondent” which has been running for over 50 years. As the BBC site says, “Every week correspondents from around the world report on the stories behind the headlines, often bringing a personal perspective to them.”

    I don’t bring this up to attack or defend Hogg’s contribution but to give it a bit of context. The audience for the programme expects the journalist to be be putting himself or herself front and centre in the segment. The tone is often – not always – quirky and a lot of journalists end up representing themselves as a version of Evelyn Waugh’s character William Boot from “Scoop”.

    I’m not sure if you can access this broadcast from outside the UK but here is the link for the audio version:

    This doesn’t invalidate anything anyone has said above about the piece but perhaps sheds a bit more light on why it exists and why it is in that form.

  10. “I will try and cite some examples the next time I weigh in.”

    Forgive me for getting confused, but was it you or Roy who is in the process of going academic (or both)? I think that both of you are well positioned to make hay by doing in-depth reportage case studies.

    “definitely professional sportscasters and sportswriters who were never pro athletes themselves.”

    Definitely, but they are often partnered with “experienced” people in a variety of contexts (that`s what the Round Mound of Sound is there for or, inexplicably, Lennox Lewis). My point is really that we deserve better than Wolf Blitzer the Iraq expert in August, Wolf Blitzer the China expert in September, and Wolf Blitzer the Sudan expert in October. It shouldn`t be academics either, but couldn`t the Japanese reading bloggers, legions of Japanese Studies MA grads with 2 years in country, etc. provide better reporters than the ranks of vets like Hogg who spend more time complaining to other guys at the foreign press club about having to order their favourite brand of port from Hong Kong than talking with Japanese people or reading what they write?

  11. I am currently in the private sector, nursing my wounds after a costly brush with college.

    To do proper case studies, I would have to either spend days in the Diet library or pay through the nose for a Nikkei TELECOM subscription. And I am afraid there is little money in it, though a few translation houses here are doing fairly well doing media summaries and other market research.

    “Japanese Studies MA grads with 2 years in country”

    Please read the relevant portions of “Stuff White People Like” to learn why people like this are often completely useless.

    Another key essay on this topic is lost to history since the Westerners Fear of the Neon Sign blog was deleted, but it basically argues: Most of the gaijin who make homes in Japan have very little context and cannot answer the most basic questions about the country. They are quick to swat down foreign commentators who don’t get it, but too often they lack a coherent vision of their own.

    I would also refer to an insightful passage from Orwell’s 1984. after the protagonist unsuccessfully presses an old man to tell him what life was like before Big Brother took over:

    Within twenty years at the most, he reflected, the huge and simple question, ‘Was life better before the Revolution than it is now?’ would have ceased once and for all to be answerable. But in effect it was unanswerable even now, since the few scattered survivors from the ancient world were incapable of comparing one age with another. They remembered a million useless things, a quarrel with a workmate, a hunt for a lost bicycle pump, the expression on a long-dead sister’s face, the swirls of dust on a windy morning seventy years ago: but all the relevant facts were outside the range of their vision. They were like the ant, which can see small objects but not large ones. And when memory failed and written records were falsified — when that happened, the claim of the Party to have improved the conditions of human life had got to be accepted, because there did not exist, and never again could exist, any standard against which it could be tested.

  12. I don’t think the mainstream international news outlets are interested in really in-depth Japan reporting. The intricacies of domestic politics are really not interesting to most people outside Japan. I suspect that most organizations use their Tokyo bureau as a cushy pre-retirement post for a senior reporter, since it basically involves sitting around on an expat package and occasionally summarizing stuff from the Japan Times and IHT.

    In other words, I suspect that trying to get decent Japan reporting from the BBC or the New York Times is like trying to get decent reporting on Germany from the Nikkei or Le Monde. The organization doesn’t give a damn because its readers/viewers don’t give a damn.

    Football commentators, on the other hand, have to be good because their viewers are immensely interested in every minute aspect of football. And for foreigners who are really interested in Japan, there are organizations which can fill their need for information, like the Economist. And, for that matter, our blogs.

  13. Doing detailed media surveys (especially ones that have a theme) is hard, that`s why you hardly ever see good ones and why it is an open area. There`s not that much money in it, but academics get to take 6 months off a year.

    “Please read the relevant portions of “Stuff White People Like” to learn why people like this are often completely useless.”

    Yes, often. However, the good ones are very much preferable to the “not knowing Japanese helps me understand their minds” types and… didn`t most of us get our Japan start with some undergrad or grad connected study? How do you think it best to establish who sucks and who doesn`t? I ask this question seriously as I am sure that we all have different opinions.

    I also agree that the average American, Canadian, etc. ex-pat in Japan is completely useless. The lack of coherence is often striking (I mean, how interested are we in what Japanese ex-pats in France who speak no French have to say?). The Japanese level is most often non-existent. However, is there something that sets Hogg apart aside from his ability to turn in good copy and a big chip on his shoulder (shared, unfortunately, by many ex-pats)?

    Joe`s explanation as to where these guys come from is very plausible.

    “And for foreigners who are really interested in Japan…”

    and the people with the greatest interest just learn Japanese and it becomes a moot point….

  14. Being the one who posted this in the first place I feel like I should have responded before the thread got so far! Sorry about that, but I just moved into my new house over the weekend, the internet isn’t hooked up, and i can only get a wifi signal from a neighbor by putting my eeePC in a single corner of my room (and no other rooms in the house).

    It’s definitely been an interesting discussion so far. I pretty much agree about the BBC reporter in question coming off kind of arrogant and all that, but I am really kind of surprised that none of the comments so far clearly state an opinion that there was something wrong with the way the PM office conducted the interview. I also find the suggestion that Hobb should have been polite and not described the extreme stage management of the interview process to be absurd on its face. The reporter’s job should be to tell as complete a story as is both necessary and possible, and giving this behind the scenes account is extremely helpful, even if his subsequent analysis is thin.

    Adam’s initial comment seemed to me to say that he would be OK if the Japanese PM didn’t even give interview to the foreign press, and expected them to only regurgitate and analyze official government white papers and press releases. Don’t foreign reporters deserve a chance to ask questions relevant to their own audience back home, which the official reports might not have thought to include? Naturally, I would also say that government leaders in any country should make a reasonable effort to be available to foreign press (obviously not to the extent that it interferes with their actual job of governing).

    From Adam’s later comment:
    “The story content tends to revolve around a mix of rote repetition of policy releases, horse-race style reporting of how these policies will help the politician or perhaps Japan’s geopolitical standing, “powerful man X said this” type of party politics speculation and an insatiable thirst for scandal.”
    Japanese reporting does use an inordinate amount of anonymous sources. The other night I grabbed one of the shukanshi off the magazine rack while I was getting dinner and read a 3 or 4 page article about the women Aso has had affairs with over the years, and it was almost 100% anonymous sources. But at least it gave general descriptions of these sources, and I think it also said why they had requested anonymity. I’ve noticed that, for example, American newspapers have been getting stricter recently over the use of anonymous sources, requiring as specific a description as possible to preserve the identity of the speaker, and also requiring a qualification for the anonymity, such as “due to not having authorization to speak on the record” or “due to concerns for the safety of her family” etc, and I’ve read that at least some editors have started telling their reporters to cut down on the use of anonymous political sources, who request anonymity for political reasons (this is largely a result of the massive Plame CIA agent leak scandal). I do think that anonymous sourcing had gotten out of hand in the Washington media, as it is notoriously out of control in Japan, but there are at least token efforts to address the problem.

    Joe: “In other words, I suspect that trying to get decent Japan reporting from the BBC or the New York Times is like trying to get decent reporting on Germany from the Nikkei or Le Monde.”
    From what I’ve seen, the NYT has actually been somewhat better. Norimitsu Onishi, for example, gets a lot of flack from experts for dumbing things down, but if you remember that he’s writing his articles for a general interest newspaper primarily aimed at the NE of the United States, it’s actually pretty good. The BBC is kind of weak on Japan, which makes sense considering the UK has never had a strong relationship with Japan compared with the Middle East, Africa, Burma, or other regions where BBC reporting is above, instead of below, par.

    And I’m the one going for academics, but media studies isn’t really my field. I’m currently mainly into late 19th century through WW2 era history, especially stuff involving colonialism, revolutions, modernization, etc. of that period. I certainly might eventually do something involving period media studies, but I don’t really see myself doing much research on contemporary media anytime soon. Actually, lately I’ve been sucked in way too hard by the media vortex surrounding the US elections and I’ve been heavily neglecting my reading of any Japan news. I need to try and correct that imbalance a little, but mainly what I need to be doing is reading more of these piles of history books I’ve got.

  15. The scripting of the interview was over the top. There, I’ve said it.

    But while I appreciate the behind the scenes look, this article makes an extremely poor model for telling “as complete a story as is both necessary and possible.” The BBC does the interview (I remember seeing glowing ads promoting it) and only months later when the man is out of office does the interviewer come out with his list of petty complaints. Fact is, the reporter WAS polite and kept his mouth shut until they gave him a forum. And what he supposedly reveals isn’t even that surprising or meaningful. It is the height of bad form. It would be like paying for a prostitute and then complaining that the sex was loveless.

    The PM should give interviews, but those highly restrictive terms SHOULD be unacceptable to an organization like the BBC. That they are not reveals their own problems as much as the government’s.

    I would favor giving BBC the same level of access as domestic media sources, but that’s not going to happen anytime soon (and domestic reporters outside the mainstream should get first dibs on increased access). The sources I mentioned aren’t exactly government propaganda — they are the PM’s sworn Diet testimony and his unscripted interviews with other reporters. Funny you would suggest their only other option would be to consult govt PR since they actually became complicit in creating it.

  16. So we can all agree that both parties screwed up this interview? I do agree that it was bad form for the BBC to conveniently publish this behind the scenes account of the interview just after Fukuda’s resignation. I think that if they were going to publish it themselves, it would have been far more appropriate to do so as part of the original story of the interview itself, and to actually complain about the treatment they were given.

    Isn’t the usual forum for this kind of story the reporter’s own memoir, published years after the fact?

    I didn’t exactly mean that their only other sources of information are government propaganda, but that the publicly available information tends to be for a domestic audience, and might not answer questions that the public of the foreign journalist’s home country want to hear answers to.

  17. Roy, raises some interesting points about Japanese sourcing being out of hand – once again, it goes against the idea of a placid press (but does not contradict Adam`s earlier points about them beating some issues to death). What a tapestry of media issues that we have raised here. I`ll say again that it would be great if someone could try to reconcile it all in a book or series of articles.

    “Don’t foreign reporters deserve a chance to ask questions relevant to their own audience back home, which the official reports might not have thought to include?”

    But this particular article is written out of the context of a very important question – how much access is the Japanese press being given in the US or UK? Japanese politicians may be giving halfass interviews to UK/US press, but aren`t those the same countries that are cutting off a lot of Japanese/Chinese reportage? (the People`s Daily routinely calls Bush a human rights tyrant, funny that they are not given a chance to do it to his face). Its not like top Asahi people (or some of the more aggressive types in the monthlies like Sakurai Yoshiko) would not love to give a grilling to some of the elites on the other side. Even the Canadian press, for example, as close to the US as can be, often bemoan their inability to get sitdowns with top US figures. The UK is similar. If this a caseof the BBC is complaining about something that the country that sponsors them does a pitiful job of?

    The rather tired, gunshy Fukuda is not to be commended for his approach, but Hogg`s infantile temper tantrum of an article, I believe, deserves more criticism and, to some degree, explains why foreign reporters can be treated with suspicion. Hogg has a record of harping on the missteps of Japanese politicians. He`s not going into that interview looking for context, he`s going in looking for a comfort women denial – or words to twist into one. Hogg`s immediate jump back to some second rate 80s Japanology stereotypes is pretty outrageous. I wonder if Hogg or his BBC bosses would be anxious to sit down with an academic who clearly wants to show that they don`t know what they are doing when it comes to Japan? Of course, nobody hates a hostile interview more than the press.

    Interestingly, a friend of mine interviewed Fukuda (I was involved in the same project) and while “dynamic” wouldn`t be a descriptive used and they had to take a look at the questions beforehand, we didn`t end up feeling like Hogg did at all.

    Roy, why did you chose the period of study that you did (if you don`t mind me asking)? Could make an interesting post.

  18. Yesterday, I posted a quick description of what role this BBC piece had but I think it may still be awaiting approval because it included a link. If it isn’t. I’ll repost.

  19. Hm, it does not appear to have been flagged, so it might have been marked straight-up spam, in which case it is basically lost in the ether… Can you repost?

  20. And to respond, I am aware of the nature of this program… I subscribe to the podcast even. He still bears responsibility for the remarks.

  21. Thanks Adamu. Certainly, Hogg doesn’t get a waiver on content just because of the platform but it does explain the tone. Roy asked “Isn’t the usual forum for this kind of story the reporter’s own memoir, published years after the fact?” but it actually suits “From Our Own Correspondent” very well. Many of the items are a behind-the-scenes look at being posted overseas.

    I’m not a fan of foreign correspondents portraying themselves as “William Boot” figures. Their intention is to be self-deprecating, describing themselves as a ordinary, flawed individuals at sea in a foreign land. They are rarely prepared to go the whole way, however, because they usually find some way of showing how they are somehow capable of a penetrating insight despite all the blundering. Personally, I find this approach often comes across as self-serving and patronizing and risks not taking the subject country seriously. I don’t believe Hogg crossed that line but I can see why some might think he had. I do agree that the BBC coverage of Japan has been poor for many years.

    I have to disagree with one of Joe’s observations as far as the UK media goes. The Tokyo bureau isn’t usually a sinecure for a senior reporter fading into retirement. It is more often given to some young thrusting type to help him (usually him) cut his teeth in a relatively risk-free environment. The “risk-free” label derives from the fact that the home audience probably won’t notice too many glaring errors about Japan and their editors don’t really expect any scoops.

    Having said that, I agree with Adamu and won’t be lobbying for too many academics to fill the ranks. As for bloggers, I like ridiculing reports on Japan as much as the next man but, at the risk of being thoroughly hypocritical, some of the criticisms of the press I read on blogs seem over the top for reasons which Adamu also describes.

    On the blogger vs journalist note, has everyone read the recent exchange between Ampontan and Peter Alford? If not, you can find most of it in the post and comments on the 25th September under the heading “Reply to Mr. Alford”.

  22. Sorry, I should have been more specific about my comment:

    I met an average person who had been shoveling snow while it was snowing. A news van rolled up with a prepared cue card that said “The snow is really bad this year. It’s really ‘taihen’ to do all this shoveling everyday.”

    However, this person remembered snow storms from decades before, and didn’t think this snowfall was so bad. He refused to read the prepared comment, and the reporter called him uncooperative and left miffed.

    I must admit, I’m relatively new to Japan and I never studied Japan in a Master’s Program or anything (I read this blog to try and fill my knowledge gap). But it seems stupid to me that the press would actually script a comment about something as benign as the weather.

    btw, do you have email notification for comments left on this blog? I would have posted sooner, but I had to manually check the thread to see if anyone had replied.

  23. Thanks for the clarification. That is an interesting anecdote. The level of scripting in Japanese TV stations is simply incredible, as a few fairly recent scandals (notably in early 2007 — search for “Aru Aru Daijiten”) have made clear enough. When it comes to mundane things like dramatizing the weather or pseudo-scientific health claims, the TV stations can usually get away with it because the stakes are so low. BTW, when did you witness this? If it was after the AruAru era, it shows the TV stations have learned nothing.

    Unfortunately for him, the PM doesn’t quite enjoy that level of stage-managing. There are far too many competing interests and people looking to catch him in a lie for anything like that to work. Fukuda tried participating in a coverup with the Chinese over the tainted gyoza scandal, and look where he ended up.

    We are supposed to have an RSS feed for comments but it has been broken for a very long time. I too am manually checking for replies.

    I appreciate the faith you put in us bloggers, but there are many other much more worthy sources of information. For starters, I would recommend reading the Neomarxisme blog archives from start to finish. I don’t recommend reading the MF archives because you will probably find some offensive comments about English teachers.

  24. Interesting to see the variety of POVs on this article. Mulboyne`s comments are very interesting.

    Maybe I went a bit hard on Hogg. People should note, however, that I originally said that “it shouldn`t be academics” so we are really disagreeing on different ways to agree(?). Academics do some things well, producing entertaining reading that also enlightens usually isn`t one of them. Are MAs (not “academics”, but really coming to the end of a “critical skills” vocational path) with language training really so little valued? How hard would it be to break in a good one to provide good, regular Japan coverage? What is a “good” Japan reporter supposed to look like? Are we to value the journalism MA over training in the geographic area that is to be reported on?

  25. “will probably find some offensive comments about English teachers.”

    Take heart NB, I really only hate English teachers as an archetype easily insulted on the web, not anyone personally.

  26. Damn, the RSS comment feed is broken? OK, I promise I really will replace the blog theme and clean everything up soon. Like, within the next month.* I believe I did try email notification once, but the plugin I installed didn’t work very well and I removed it again. I haven’t actually messed with the blog software in ages, aside from installing WordPress updates.

    M-bone: I got especially interested in that period initially when I went to study Chinese in Taiwan right after graduating from college. This was after I had already spent two years studying at Ritsumeikan in Kyoto as an undergrad exchange student, so the Japanese influence in Taiwan stood out for me pretty starkly. I hadn’t really known anything much about Taiwan before that, although when I found out I was going there I read a few introductory books in my university (Rutgers) library, but after arrival I began studying up on Taiwanese history pretty heavily, then added the Philippines after I took a trip there (from Taiwan), was similarly impressed with the colonial legacy there, and grabbed an armful of local history books.

    BTW, I do remember Bryce mentioning his Fukuda interview on the blog, and I also met him in Kyoto a couple of days later. I haven’t seen him comment in ages though. So, what was that project actually about, and what kind of research are you working on yourself?

    *Assuming my internet really does get hooked up on time.

  27. We don’t really have THAT much offensive stuff about English teachers on here. I think if you skim the archives you can find some good stuff, often in the comments section. I just wouldn’t recommend going back to the beginning, but maybe just a couple of years at most. After the theme overhaul one thing all three of us should do is pick out a few of our own posts as favorite recommended posts and put those links somewhere accessible.

  28. This is way off the topic of the post, but like M-Bone I too have a guilty conscience about some comments I have made on the subject of eikaiwa. I think a reconciliation post is in order. But basically, while I think there is something wrong when an English teacher tells me I have a “real job” when I mention my work as a translator, who am I to denigrate?

  29. Yeah, I’ve said nasty things about eikaiwa teachers in the comments here. I take them back. It’s really a mixed lot of individuals, and for every village idiot in the profession there’s someone else who’s a genius just looking to pay the bills.

    I would redirect my scorn at headhunters, most of whom combine the mediocrity of the dumbest eikaiwa teachers with the attitudes of the smarmiest management consultants. Mind you, there are some really good recruiters out there, but most are just trying their best to maintain a facade of respectability, and not really succeeding at that…

    That’s another post, though, and I should probably save it for after my next career change.

  30. Tell me about it.

    BTW, today there was an event promoting Tokyo’s bid to host the 2016 Olympics outside Midtown, and guess what? Photography was allowed! Governor Ishihara himself was there so I was kind of surprised.

  31. We should be sure to acknowledge that Eikaiwa teachers are a very diverse group when we insult them in the future.

    Adamu – some interesting comments on Neojaponisme (and here) about what you think that we should and should not be doing as critics. I would be interested in seeing you bring it all together in a post.

  32. Why does Adamu always write interesting post when I’m working for 17hours a day for all week?

    I know some foreign correspondents in my office and they are divided into two groups.The regional experts and others.The regional expert spends years learning this specific area.In my office,there were China school,Korea School and Russia school(and new emerging middle east expert)The others are people who are specialized in a field like international finance(who are posted in New York,London and Frankfurt)and specialist in Japanese foreign policy and domestic politics(who will be posted to Washington)The former tends to have strong mental bondage to the target country,yet the latter do not.
    There’s been a word ”司外交”named by Ito Hirobumi,that back in the days of Meiji era,Germany educated diplomat looks at Germany and French speaker becoming Francopile and those stationed in London had tendency of sympathizing British foreign policy,thus these career background had made friction in the unity of Japanese foreign affairs.I must admit similar happens in today’s newsroom of J-media.Yet still,I see merit in area expert becoming the bureau chief that overrides the negativity.

    Judging from the past coverage,I’d imagine BBC doesn’t have much interest in the country where they don’t print queen’s portrait on the postal stamp.However,BBC tends to have indepth reporting on Japan when the dolphines being killed in somewhere in Wakayama…..
    (BBC used to send a exchange reporter for radio program to international unit of NHK,but stopped for sometime.Because,A)International unit was not exactly the powerhouse of NHK news section and B)BBC wanted to spend more budget in the country where BBC has more audience.Although currently Japan has become a huge market for BBC WORLD,this tie was cut long before BBC’s satellite program enterprise went global.)

  33. I remember the point Aceface raises about diplomats and journalists coming up on Mutant Frog before when we were talking about whether a non-Japanese speaker can have any valuable insights into Japan. At that risk of rehashing that discussion, I would rather have Japan correspondents who could read and speak Japanese but I don’t think that an individual with those skills will always make a better Japan correspondent. We probably need to start by having an idea of what we want the job description to be and I suspect a media organization will have a different set of requirements to those we might have as opinionated consumers.

  34. “We probably need to start by having an idea of what we want the job description to be and I suspect a media organization will have a different set of requirements to those we might have as opinionated consumers.”

    Very true. I am worried about the way that things are going, however.

    Example: Wired Magazine`s game blog was recently looking for a semi-freelancer to do a few daily Akihabara posts. One of the requirements was that applicants speak and read Japanese. In order to do paid by the word pieces about game releases for Wired, you need to know Japanese. The game blog editor over there not only speaks Japanese, but he did a two year Fulbright in Kyoto after he finished his Japanese studies degree. This is the kind of person that they are looking for to interpret Nintendo press releases (he also writes well and is a funny-ass guy, which doesn`t hurt). In a way, it is seriously messed up that the bar for Japan video game writing is set like this but, hey, if you want to interview the Japanese PM for the BBC….

    Our earlier discussions about non-Japanese speakers giving insights are relevant here – I made the point that non-Japanese speakers probably could not bring in enough varied evidence and points of view to help us understand what, I think Adamu called “Project Japan”, but that experts in a certain area could certainly contribute to our understanding of that area in Japan. Video Games seems like an area where Japanese knowledge maybe isn`t that necessay to do half decent reportage. Oddly, it IS an area where major media outlets are demanding that knowledge. So for totalizing reporting on Japanese society, no Japanese, for parochial, often image-based game reportage, its a must.

    In explaining this, I think that we can go back to Joe`s earlier points – Japanese speaking video game writers add value to the news as a product by brining context that readers would not have access to otherwise. For reporting on the politics or society of others, context often need not apply – which in the age of Iraq and other huge disasters, is not a good thing. When I heard Palin`s “the Russians are coming!” comments, I first thought about how it is hard to blame her, given how little context there was in the reportage of the Georgia affair.

  35. “I would rather have Japan correspondents who could read and speak Japanese but I don’t think that an individual with those skills will always make a better Japan correspondent.”

    Too true.
    And considering how much the translator costs in hour basis,I’d imagine most news outlets will only rely on English sources,which will be FCCJ press conference(I’ve said once and I say it again but FCCJ is the largest kisha club in Japan and lots of foreign press corps write pieces criticizing Japanese media being tied down to kisha club system from here),JT articles and ofcourse,blogs.
    Another thing is the tendency of sexed-up Japan stories.
    (Shinzo Abe mentioning on comfort women issue on March 2nd,2007 and possible financial crisis in the 90’s that never materialized are on my mind.)

  36. It makes sense for Wired magazine to demand those skills. There’s already a minor industry which seizes on Japanese video game and technology press releases, magazine features, news reports, blog entries etc., and translates them into English. Wired’s blog is posting almost in real-time so they need someone who can access this Japanese material and render it into English to compete in the same space.

    It isn’t unusual for senior or high profile individuals in Japan to have poor or non-existent Japanese skills while requiring their juniors to have them. We’ve already mentioned how a number of ambassadors don’t speak Japanese but their aides certainly will. The same is true for many foreign CEOs who don’t speak Japanese: they’ll have someone in the office who can speak with customers and suppliers. In a corporation, the person with that responsibility is often an English-speaking Japanese national. Wired probably wouldn’t object to using a Japanese freelancer but a media organization requires good English written copy which is a less common skill to find among non-native speakers. BBC World News has Mariko Oi on their staff but she says she can “write better in English than in Japanese”.

    One aspect we haven’t brought up is that there may even be a disincentive to learn Japanese for an ambitious operator posted to Japan. It is time-consuming and the person may judge that time better spent on climbing the greasy pole. Also, if they did learn the language, their employer might be inclined to leave them in place which would be anathema for someone who wanted to make a splash in a bigger pond. Gillian Tett is now assistant editor of the Financial Times and oversees the paper’s global coverage of the financial markets. Her stint as Tokyo bureau chief helped her get that position but she needed Tokyo to be a stepping stone rather than a final destination.

  37. Hi Roy, and everyone else.

    With a thesis due soon and a few election events to set up, I don’t have much time for non-essential Internet activities, hence the recent silence from this direction.

    In any case, when I interviewed Fukuda I found him candid, articulate, intelligent and even kind in a grandfatherly way. I didn’t need to provide him with a script. All I needed to tell his aides before the interview was that I wanted to ask him questions about foreign policy. In fact, I asked what might be termed a ‘gotcha’ question. He flummoxed a bit and tried to avoid it, but in the end did okay.

    A few things need to be kept in mind though. Firstly, he wasn’t Prime Minister – or even a minister – at the time (at the end of 2006). The scandals about the return of the postal rebels and the sweetheart real estate deal for Abe’s tax advisor were just starting to bite Abe, and I thought Fukuda to be his likely successor.
    However, there was nowhere near the level of handling that would accompany someone with a government post.

    Secondly, academic work is different from media work, for obvious reasons. The quotes from my interviews with Fukuda and other Dietmembers will feature in a journal article to be published early next year. They were submitted to that journal roughly a year ago. The interview took place over a year before that. That’s how slow these things go, so there is far less opportunity for academics – unlike journalists – to play ‘gotcha’ with politicians. We can also agree to preconditions – like embargoes – that, Hogg’s behaviour notwithstanding, the press should never allow. That’s why we can expect them to be a little bit more open with us than with the press. Having said that, I don’t believe any self-respecting researcher would allow the level of scripting that went on in the BBC interview.

  38. Also, I tend to concur with the general thrust here that foreign journalists in Japan could be better trained. About a year ago I read an article written by a retiring Japan-based foreign correspondent bemoaning the lack of skilled foreign journalists in Japan. It seems there is a policy among some of the newspapers to only keep them here for five years, becuase any longer and they go ‘native’. I’m not sure if this means that they start learning Japanese and bringing context to the stories that they write, but that’s probably the case. According to the same article, there is still high demand from editors based ‘at home’ for quirky stories from Japan (witness “I survived a Japanese game show”), which journalists who have lived in country long enough are more reluctant to provide.

    In any case, I think Hogg’s piece is pure Orientalism. Of course interviews with the leaders of major trading nations and world powers are at the receiving end of softball interviews and press conferences. Exposing the Fukuda interview is just a way of portraying the British media as ‘hard-hitting’ in interviews, when really they are not. Media representatives in Britain have to, after all, guarantee their access as well.

  39. Oops

    “Of course interviews with the leaders of major trading nations and world powers are at the receiving end of softball interviews and press conferences.”

    Should be

    “Of course the leaders of major trading nations and world powers are at the receiving end of softball interviews and press conferences.”

  40. Very good points Mulboyne. I find the disincentive that you mention to be both accurate and a bit scary.

    As for diplomats and CEOs, I think that the Japanese issue is different. What they do is very different from what the press should be doing. In a way, diplomats and CEOs are there more to talk than to listen. A US ambassador doesn`t really need to know much about Japan if his major reason for being there is to make the “US voice” heard. A CEO can leave understanding the subtle desires of Japanese consumers up to his people and just make the big calls. If you want to make a great ad, you can always call Dentsu. In addition, sometimes not being able to speak Japanese can help one to build a “brand” in Japan (Bob Sapp, Carlos Ghosn) that can actually help you more than it can hurt.

    My concern about the press really falls in one area – ability to accurately reflect the range of opinion in a country like Japan.

    Check out this very good MTC post –

    The press has been pretty much unable to differentiate between Aso and other Japanese “nationalists” but MTC turns to that all important Japanese language literature to do (for free, tragically) a much more subtle commentary than anything that I have seen offered from the mainstream. Of course, to reflect a range of opinion, you really need to get the Japanese books, magazines, etc. and talk to lots of people. The lack of ability to do this has caused some real crapstorms. In 1997, virtually every journalist took Iris Chang`s claims that nobody in Japan apart from Honda Katsuichi had ever heard of the Nanking Massacre at face value. If any one of them had gone to a Japanese bookstore or library and checked, they would have found dozens, possibly hundreds of books with accurate info on it. Something has to be done about this sort of blindness.

    Personally, I think that the press should start raiding the ranks of bloggers – Marxy, Adamu, Roy, Joe, etc. They would probably work for less than Hogg as well….

    In any case, I think that most of us agree that the potential for “damage” to be done with Japan stories is fairly limited. I, for one, am far more concerned about, say, the largely uncritical reporting of Iran in the United States. Here, context seems to be something that could eventually save lives instead of preventing bruised egos.

    On another note, I also agree fully that not every Japanese speaking commentator is going to produce something useful. We`ve been very critical of Kerr and Greenfield in the past. The Key, I think, is to find the good journalistic voices among candidates who already speak Japanese. The Wired Editor may end up doing a lot of press release stuff, but has gotten more attention for doing well contextualized “state of the industry” or “what is creative about Japanese gaming” essays a few times a year. They found a gem in him, and he`s not the only one out there.

  41. “Personally, I think that the press should start raiding the ranks of bloggers – Marxy, Adamu, Roy, Joe, etc. They would probably work for less than Hogg as well….”

    No they wouldn’t… journalists do a thankless and low-paying job, so I will be happy to undercut them without compensation from my own corner of the web.

  42. Speak for yourself. I’m totally open to job offers. Thankless journalistic hacking would be way more fun than reading syndicated loan agreements all day.

    I think I’ve written about the “don’t learn Japanese” argument as it applies to the legal industry. It’s pretty much the same deal. If you learn the language well enough to do business in it, you’ve pretty much branded yourself as someone who has “gone native” and you’ll likely be consigned to ministerial and highly localized tasks: reviewing financial records instead of negotiating the acquisition.

    There’s another aspect in which Gillian Tett’s disconnect with Japan probably worked to her advantage. I enjoyed reading “Saving the Sun” despite all its hokey generalizations about Japanese culture. If I wrote the book as someone used to the business environment here, I would have taken these factors for granted. It would probably not be as entertaining, nor would it leave a clear picture of Japanese business in a Western reader’s mind.

    Now I think there are a few people out there who have the best of both worlds. They know enough Japanese to delve off the beaten track, but they have kept enough distance from the culture here that they are keenly aware of the basic aspects that most Westerners would find intensely interesting. But these folks are the exception between two larger populations: the clueless and the nativized.

  43. “Thankless journalistic hacking would be way more fun than reading syndicated loan agreements all day.”

    You’d “think” so,huh? You may end up reading boring auto accident files non stop for five weeks,SEVENTEEN HOURS A DAY with no holidays…..

    I’ll definitly be a shark in a suit in my next life and doing blogging for fun in my next life.

  44. I would also be happy to try some journalism, although probably not Aceface’s 17 hour a day accident victim project. Anyway, send me an email when that project is done, Aceface, and I’ll come out and visit your new area.

  45. “No they wouldn’t…”

    Hogg obviously isn`t the paid by the word kind. I`d be surprised if he wasn`t making a solid 6 figures. My main point, however, is that there are many people do a better job… and for free.

  46. Selfishly, I’d prefer the best bloggers to stay as bloggers. Media will probably converge further but print and broadcast organizations still impose constraints that would stifle many bloggers. I’m happier right now to see them being asked to comment for news pieces rather than becoming the regular authors.

    It is interesting watching Tobias Harris because he is appears to be on the way to becoming the new John Neuffer. Neuffer became the go-to foreigner for Japanese politics when his research notes for Mitsui Fire & Marine Research Institute gained a wide circulation. The height of his fame was coining the “cold pizza” label for Obuchi during the LDP leadership elections in 1998. It eventually became a “phrase of the year” in Japan but it’s worth recording the initial reaction of a spokesperson at the Foreign Ministry PR department:

    ”Unfortunately, Mr. Neuffer’s ‘cold pizza’ is now too famous…Those analysts on Japanese politics quoted in your paper or other foreign papers are quite unfamiliar to us Japanese…Are they only known within the gaijin ghetto?…Or am I simply ignorant?”

    Neuffer went on to become a deputy assistant U.S. trade representative and says that his work undoubtedly opened up some career options. I might be putting words into his mouth but I believe he said that he wouldn’t have been able to build that profile as a journalist. In his newsletter, Neuffer had the space and time to develop a narrative which no newspaper editor would have allowed him. Today, for instance, he would have been told “Enough with the politics, John, our readers don’t care about another cabinet resuffle in Japan” and sent off to write about dope-smoking rikishi and a background piece on sex video rental rooms.

    I’ve never met Hogg and rarely turn to the BBC for news on Japan so also don’t know much about his work. However, I have met quite a few correspondents over the years and a fair number have more intelligent views on Japan that they ever get across in their work. Maybe they just aren’t very good at their job but, more likely, it’s the job they are asked to do. Perhaps when we criticize foreign correspondents, we are attacking the visible target but not the root of the problem.

    Generally, I can often pick holes in media coverage if it touches on a subject I might know a lot about. This is usually because the articles aren’t for me. As well as deciding what we think the job description should be for a foreign correspondent, perhaps we should come up with some examples of foreign correspondents we admire working outside Japan. It would be interesting if the BBC developed someone like Mark Tully, former head of their New Delhi bureau, for Japan but such a figure would likely be far more controversial than anyone in the current FCCJ ranks.

  47. Does the world must learn about Japan via foreign correspondents?
    When the world learn about China,Russia,Palestine or India,often media quote the local intellctuals/journalist/analyist.While here in Japan,they stick to someone from the gaijin ghettos.

    Mulboyne came up with example of Obuchi”Cold Pizza”Keizo,but looking in retrospective,Obuchi did far more better than the average Japanese PM.Gerald Curtis had predicted Koizumi would dissapear within a few months without achieving anything.
    Also about Abe Shinzo,he did next to nothing to change the status quo,yet every single foreign Japan observers screamed as if it’s 1930’s all over again.It’s difficult to predict how good can a politician perform in advance.But somehow,many Japan observers act as if they have some crystal balls in their hand.

    Another thing that irritates me about foreigners commenting on Japan is their tendency of “Japan-take-my-advice-or-bust”tones in their words.These guys don’t have to worry about any response from angry readers nor potential political backlash that they would have to put into the consideration when they are writing about home affairs.

    If these guys don’t have any knowledge nor ability to cover the issue of the country,why pretend as if they can? I’m asking this although I already know the answers.But I still wonder why can’t they just cut and paste the words from local newspaper with the help of interpreter like most Japanese medias in the U.S do,since the current practices are far more disastrous.
    I’m talking about that guy from NYT who wrote a piece on wearable vending machine and presented it as the new way for Japanese women to protect themselves from street crime,which actually was a tongue-in-cheek performance of comtemporary artist.And we had
    “Sushi-police”fiasco which actually was simple way of awarding Japanese restraunt in abroad that is following the traditional and orthodox procedure of cooking the dishes.There has to be some change in current Dick Cheney school of journalism being practiced here in Tokyo.

  48. “As well as deciding what we think the job description should be for a foreign correspondent, perhaps we should come up with some examples of foreign correspondents we admire working outside Japan.”

    A good question is – should we be holding Japan correspondents to the same standard as, say, a Canadian US correspondent? Guys like Henry Champ typically provide the same level of coverage on US political goings on as US pundits, but also are careful to make clear that there is a diversity of public opinion in the United States. He can also tell which voices are worth reporting on (while Japan correspondents rarely get away from the dailies).

    I mean, is Japan really so perplexing? I have a much harder time understanding Palin than any of the LDP crew, for example.

    Aceface is very correct in what he says – Canadian correspondents making grand pronouncements about what the Fed should be doing or what a “surge” strategy should look like would be laughed off the air. The most confusing Japan pronouncements are typically in the military area – there is very little awareness of the constraints that public opinion have placed on military spending among foreign correspondents so anything about Japanese defense tends to summarize the Asahi`s summary of a kisha club summary of whatever a politicians got his aides to summarize.

    In addition, when talking about what reportage should look like – the pairing of Hitchens and Said was fascinating. The fluent, grounded, cross-cultural idea man with the guy who can just flat out write. It may not have been typical correspondence, but it sure was fascinating.

  49. Just a clarification — EVERYONE has an opinion about what the Fed should be doing, in Japan or anywhere else. Bernanke is never short on free advice. The sheer power of the Fed makes that a separate issue altogether.

    I think more than specific issues the tone foreign commentators take toward Japan must seem condescending, especially coming from whipper-snappers at the FCCJ. It is true that writing in English about Japan can often spark little reaction from the Japanese public at large (as this blog proves pretty consistently). The language divide is large and the cultural divide perhaps even larger.

    I always wonder why someone like former Economist EIC Bill Emmott seems to be so successful at being one of these people offering advice to Japan without coming off as condescending.

  50. “The sheer power of the Fed makes that a separate issue altogether.”

    Maybe, but “The Americans have it all wrong. It is a backward system. What they need is a Canadian-style financial revolution!” will not be heard.

  51. “I always wonder why someone like former Economist EIC Bill Emmott seems to be so successful at being one of these people offering advice to Japan without coming off as condescending.”

    A)He was former Economist EIC.
    B)He has Japan experience and consistent interest toward the country
    C)He was pretty accurate with what he wrote in “The Sun also Sets”
    back in the early 90’s.When likes of Eamon Fingleton was screaming about possible Japanese take over of world economy.
    D)He is basically considered as “pro”Japan…..

  52. The international media is full of commentators telling other countries what to do. America gets both barrels on a regular basis from virtually everyone these days. The French rarely get any love from British newspapers and their titles are happy to return the favour. Only last night, I watched the London correspondent of Die Zeit attacking the morality of British bankers. The Japanese media is quite happy to play these games too. As the US fell into the S&L crisis, it wasn’t just Japan’s politicians making the occasional disparaging comments about the US work ethic and social priorities. You don’t have to offer advice to make it quite clear what you think is wrong with another country. The Japanese media also wrote years earlier about 英国病 or イギリス病 – although they didn’t invent the term – and used it as the basis for a series of sweeping value judgements. I’m also not a fan of the “take-my-advice-or-bust” school of journalism but it certainly isn’t a characteristic unique to foreign reporting on Japan.

    I agree with Aceface that it would be good to see more quotations from local analysts in the coverage of Japan but I’m not sure who I would suggest. There has been an increasing trend towards using local commentators in business reporting for a number of years now but is less true in political reporting. On television news, the constraint is that you need someone who can speak succinctly in English. There are plenty of Japanese economists, financial strategists and industry analysts who can handle that demand but fewer politicians, journalists, police chiefs and the like. So, who do we think the world ought to be hearing from?

    Of course, the world doesn’t only learn about Japan through it’s foreign correspondents. In the media alone, Japan will be covered by sports reporters, business reporters, technology reporters etc. The BBC news coverage of Japan may leave a lot to be desired but the country will often be shown in a good light in arts and entertainment programming. There’s no doubt, though, that two of the poorest books on Japan published recently are written by former Tokyo correspondents, namely Ben Hills and Michael Michael Zielenziger. Incidentally, has anyone read Benjamin Fulford’s books?

  53. I am pretty sure Minoru Morita is always on hand to tell foreign reporters that whoever the current PM is is a lunatic.

    I just remember Benjamin Fulford appearing on Beat Takeshi’s TV Tackle and all his lines were attacking US foreign policy (I think).

    Anyway, I just looked up his website and this guy is totally unhinged. Here’s a little taste of his worldview, undated but apparently written around the time Karl Rove resigned from his White House post:

    “The secret government of the US and EU has promised a major overhaul in the wake of the warning it got from the Chinese secret society, according to a senior Japanese public security police officer and Freemason who has been acting as an intermediary with the Chinese secret society. “Expect big changes this autumn,” he said in comments confirmed by a member of the Japanese royal family. “What you will be seeing is the unwinding of George Bush senior’s 50-year campaign to turn the U.S. into a fascist regime,” the secret police agent says. “George Bush senior is now a broken man showing signs of senile dementia,” he adds.

    “If the sources are to be believed, U.S. President George Bush’s government will resign, before his term expires, and will be replaced by an interim regime headed by Al Gore. This will start a 2-3 year transition period during which suppressed technology, such as free energy, will be released and a new system for running the planet will be implemented, according to these two sources. “They [The illuminati] know their rule is ending but they do not want it to end in an ugly way,” the security police source says.”

  54. OK,I admit I’m a bit soaked into victim mentality.But I found there’s something fundamentally different between Japanese op-ed accusing Brit syndrome or European condemning Bush presidency and know-it-all Japan hands preaching Japan what-to-do.The former has zero political leverage,while the latter could change into source of Gai-atsu.

    “There’s no doubt, though, that two of the poorest books on Japan published recently are written by former Tokyo correspondents”

    Should also add “Japan A Reinterpretation”by former IHT Tokyo correspondent Patrick Smith.Zielenger book has been criticized by one of the NEET informant he interviewed through translator.Zielenger has also compared Japan and South Korea and presented the latter as the model for hikikomori-free society.Yet he ignores the fact that hikikomori has becoming increasingly serious problem in Korea too.

    Benjamin Fulford had been writing issues that are within FCCJ meme such as Japan becoming next Argentine,or Yakuza is the source of decade long recession or J-medias are bunch of cowards.
    But suddenly he starts drifting to the twilightzone.I picked up the one with conversation between Karel van Wolfren and Fulford.(Wolfren seemed pretty confused with the way Fulford leads the conversation.)

  55. While Hills and Zielenziger wrote terrible books, I don`t think that Fulford should be compared because he is insane. I`ve looked at some of his books in Japanese and they are just what one would expect from someone who thinks that zombie ninjas were behind 9/11. His world view is like a Oosawa Arimasa novel. He`s writing for Japanese audiences who would like to think that 12 masked men rule the world – the guys who used to read Ochiai Nobuhiko.

    Ace, Smith`s book may be bad, but it is not “evil” like the other ones. His criticism of Reischauer`s pointed essentialism was interesting and he actually went and talked to some Japanese people unlike Zielenziger who talked to a wall and wrote a bad “non-fiction” version of “Welcome to NHK”. Hills somehow managed to rip off Japanese shukanshi articlces while still arguing that nothing he was writing could ever be said publically in Japan. The “Japanese don`t know” reportage angle that some foreign writers follow may be the worst thing of all.

  56. ”Ace, Smith`s book may be bad, but it is not “evil” like the other ones. His criticism of Reischauer`s pointed essentialism was interesting”

    See,that’s one point I want to make.Is Reischauer,that bad?
    Besides,I detect Smith is presenting different kind of essentialism in his own book which is far less reliable to my eyes.And I don’t even think it’s “re-interpretation”.It’s just a xerox copy of Comintern’s thesis.(ie,Japan is not a modern civic society but run by quasi feudalistic social value etc)
    And my skepticism partially came from his long bio list in the back of the book.Did he actually all of that? I have to wonder since he misquoted Maruyama Masao’s famous phrase”大日本帝国の実在よりも、戦後民主主義の虚妄に賭ける”which was a reply to one of Maruyama’s critic on post war democracy,and Maruyama was defending post-war democracy may not be perfect ,yet it’s a lot more worth defending than Japanese empire.
    And as I recall,Patrick Smith had quoted this as “Maruyama had considered”post-war democracy as illusional,which is complete reverse and I stopped reading after that.(this may not be accurate since that Smith’s book has gone to Book-Off for quite sometime now)

    Zielenger did interviewed some real Japanese and one of the hikikomori blogger had wrote a post on his blog that he got confused by the way Zielenger had vented what he had said.(I think I posted the link on either here or Neojaponisme about a year ago,but I can’t find the blog now)

  57. As M-Bone says, Aceface, Smith doesn’t really deserve to be lumped in with Hills and Zielenziger. You might judge that he failed but he set his sights higher than the other two authors. In one sense, he wasn’t writing about Japan so much as writing about the literature on Japan. You might not care for his title either but it may not have been Smith who chose it. The publisher has a heavy involvement in coming up with a title they think will help a book sell. Books on Japan are a niche market and publishers are keen to use a title to establish a book’s place firmly in that niche. Just look at the names of three books by authors already mentioned here so far: “Saving the Sun” (Tett) “Shutting Out the Sun” (Zielenziger) “The Sun Aslso Sets” (Emmott).

  58. While everything you wrote is true,Mulboyne.I don’t believe “Shutting out the Sun” was editor’s invention.It’s one book that title tells everyting,even dictates the content of the book.

    Problem I felt about Smith’s book is it’s one of those books that author puts everything in it.Hill’s is about royal scandal(Oriental Diana story,as he puts it) and Zielenger focus specifically on single social disease to portray a nation which is hikikomori.Whether I agree with the books or not,focusing specific angle is probably better way to write about a country,unless you are not lifelong observer of the target nation and here none of the three fit the category.

    I know M-Bone didn’t like it.But I found Ian Buruma’s “Inventing Japan” was much better piece of work.But then we’ve talked about this before.

  59. I recall that Smith based his title on the title of one of Lafcadio Hearn`s books (Japan – An Interpretation). I don`t have a lot of love for Hearn (why the “&#% would anyone chose to use the Kojiki to explain every aspect of Japanese society – oh yeah, it was one of the only things translated and Hearn lived in Japan for decades without every really learning Japanese – the archetype of the eikaiwa teacher… sorry). But hey, he still gets mad respect in Japan so we should go easy on Smith for the title.

    Aceface`s criticism of Smith is spot on, I think. That flaw, IMHO, makes it “lame”, however, not foul like the other two.

    Just to restate on “Inventing Japan” – it is an “okay” book. However, I don`t think that it does anything to separate itself from its source material – Gluck, etc. – which means that while it may be an okay read, it is not really that worthwhile. It is posing as an academic work but really has nothing original in it – which is really the one thing that is supposed to set academic work apart. I mean, you could summarize “Embracing Defeat” in 120 pages and it may read well, but what`s the point?

  60. The Economist has a piece about Japan in their correspondent’s diary, which is similar to the BBC’s programme. It includes these comments:

    “Many of The Economist’s diaries relate some dashing adventure; reporting from Tokyo, by contrast, features long stretches in which nothing discernible actually happens…This means that, in my work as business correspondent for Japan, most of what qualifies as “reporting” takes place over lunches and coffees, usually off-the-record (which I have followed in this diary). It seems to be the right approach for the circumstances: Japan is a great, wonderful mystery. Like life, trying to comprehend it is not the point; rather, it is the journey, not the destination, that matters.”

  61. I saw that! Another behind the scenes look! I have already started a post on this. But I want to emphasize how valuable these pieces are. NOT as an opportunity to stick it to the Western media for not getting it, but as a look at what is going on in their heads and how they operate. That quote is actually very close to being really insightful or at least it is surprisingly honest and obviously very revealing. Perhaps if he could only speak the language, he would come closer to concluding that all the apparent mystery does not necessarily mean that there is some vast conspiracy taking place, no matter how frustrating those trial balloon newspaper headlines might be.

    It is WAY too easy to hold reporters to impossibly high standards and excoriate them for emphasizing things like the mystery and inscrutability or what have you. It has been well established that foreign correspondents routinely come away with that reaction. But in this case we get a glimpse at exactly what sorts of people he talks to and how he is processing information. I hope to give a more detailed reaction soon.

  62. Well, it’s a bit off topic and way too late, but I have to say that if you’re in Japan and you’re going to set up and run your own company, you damn well better get fluent in the language. “Going native” is the least of your worries – you need to get people asking you where you got your blue contacts.

  63. Apologies for bringing this thread up again after so many months but I’ve just noticed a recent Q&A in the New York Times with their Foreign Editor Susan Chira (who worked in their Tokyo Bureau 1984-89).

    There’s not a great deal specific to Japan, except a reference to language training:

    “We will usually prefer correspondents who speak the languages of the regions they cover and have some background either living in or studying those areas. We provide a year’s language training for Chinese, Russian, Arabic and Japanese — among the hardest languages for someone who is not a native speaker to learn. We expect near-fluency from our correspondents in France and Latin America, since so many reporters do speak French or Spanish.”

    Nevertheless, it does shed some light on how a foreign editor sees the role today.

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