Japanese TV is full of dangerous frauds

Japan Probe had an thoughtful post on one of Japanese TV’s more prominent fortune-tellers:

Last night, TV Tokyo aired a special warning viewers about disasters that are bound to hit Japan in the next few years. They included:

A cholera outbreak will come from the sea and kill 5,000 Japanese between now and 2011

Famine will hit Japan and thousands will die of starvation between now and 2011.

In 2011, water shortages will lead to global war, and Japan will participate in the conflict.

The predictions were made by Jucelino Nobrega da Luz, a Brazilian con artist. Instead of giving viewers background information about how Jucelino is a fraud, TV Tokyo found experts and spun their explanations about there being “a possibility” that outbreaks of disease and famine could occur into supporting evidence for Jucelino’s claims.

Here was my comment in response:

My stomach churns each time I see this man on TV. The most sickening display was when he claimed to know where Lindsay Anne Hawker’s killer was hiding out. The rawest form of exploitation of an unsolved murder, and there wasn’t even a token disclaimer to let viewers know the man is completely full of it. I guess a dead foreigner is easy since she has so few friends inside the country. He and all the fortune tellers on J-TV have no place outside the most fringe areas of daytime TV infomercials but no they get prime time booking and complete reverence and respectability.

Someone said the appearance of this man on Japanese TV was not a Japan-specific issue, but while it may be true that other countries have bad and even harmful TV, what has it got to do with Japan? Of course this man’s respectful treatment on Japanese television is hugely relevant to Japan…

The Japanese people are bombarded with a massive amount of false and dishonest TV images depicted as non-fiction, and it is not limited to fake psychics (for example, is it any wonder that some people were willing to believe that Asahara Shoko was a messiah with the ability to levitate when he used to BE one of these respected figures on J-TV?).

With so much disinformation in their lives can it be any wonder that many people never find their way to the realm of rational debate over national issues of importance?

28 thoughts on “Japanese TV is full of dangerous frauds”

  1. I agree with your condemnation of this fraud but it really isn’t a Japan-specific issue. Japanese television for many years came up with low cost programming solutions that the rest of the world has adopted wholesale as the number of distribution channels exploded. In his later career, Harry Houdini was famous for exposing occultists and psychics just as James Randi tries to do today. In Houdini’s day, such practitioners had access to mainstream media but they were largely excluded once radio and television took root, save those promoting the christian church. Look at cable TV these days, however, and the frauds have made a comeback with plenty of opportunities to ply their trade in paranormal specials, ghost hunter documentaries and the like. I deplore the way this charlatan gets airtime in Japan but it isn’t unique to the country and his appearance doesn’t necessarily explain how people approach “national issues of importance” any more than it does elsewhere.

  2. Japan needs its own James Randi. Uri Gellar’s still big in Japan, right?

    I do think, however, that you can show a repeated disinterest in presenting “facts” and “reality” in what is nominally “non-fiction” segments of variety shows. Everything is tweaked for entertainment value, and not just through clever editing, but “scripting” reality segments. For example, the natto diet and all of its ilk.

    Okay, maybe it’s not just Japan, but in Japan, the outright fraud and lying is institutional. They are limited to variety shows because they don’t want to invest in dramatic formats, and the only way to make “reality” interesting is to outright lie about it and put it on a script.

    There is always that caveat — the Japanese people are smarter than you give them credit for and they don’t believe everything said on TV — but remember that there was a huge run on natto before the story broke as bullshit. There are still enough people who find TV credible that it does sway the population in rather unpleasant, manipulative ways.

  3. Uri Geller is a risky property in Japan because he is so litigious. He sued Randi in Japanese courts and has also sued both Nintendo and Kodansha. I think he is regarded as a magician as much as a “paranormalist” which is the image that seemed to come across in his Nissan commercials.

    You can ask whether such TV features in Japan affect people’s ability to be well-informed. However, in which country do you think religion and superstition have a greater effect on political discourse, Japan or America?

  4. OK, let’s assume America is more superstitious. What then? Should I go back home and start blogging about the religious right?

    Let’s not be distracted. I guess whenever I write anything about Japan it needs the disclaimer “the statements in this blog may contain statements about trends in Japanese society that may also apply to other nations to a lesser, equal, or greater degree. Except where explicit, no statement should be construed to imply a comparison, favorable or unfavorable, with the US or any other UN member.”

  5. I feel like putting a fist through the TV every time I see a psychic. While I think that the bottle rocket man myth thing was just a bit of fun, the psychics really, really bother me.

    The Mulboyne / Adam exchange seems to be something that J-blogs keep coming back to again and again. Adam makes a fair point above, but is it not also interesting to talk about these issues as they apply to all post-industrial societies? Mulboyne`s point that Japanese TV may actually have paved the way for more and more of this s#&% internationally by pioneering cheap, easy TV formulas is fascinating.

    In Japan, we are often presented with Japan-centric panic. Inflation is up! Oh my god! We say – slow down! Inflation in Japan has actually been very, very low for years now compared to other developed economies. Diverse examples usually add to discussions.

  6. “There is always that caveat — the Japanese people are smarter than you give them credit for and they don’t believe everything said on TV ”

    Well,I have different opinion about that.Nowadays,it’s becoming increasingly difficult to get a banana,thanks to Banana diet boom..

    I spend days checking the minor detail nobody really wants to know about auto accident in Aichi prefecture for my own program,yet you change the channel and see psychic preacing you the end of the days,life is sometimes so unfair.

    There’s a group called ”と学会”stands for トンデモ本研究学会http://www.togakkai.com/ that does all the fact checking on pesudo science and osychic publishing.However,there’s currently a dispute ongoing between と学会board memeber and columinist Karasawa Shunichi and Berekley resident and film critic Machiyama Tomohiro on the net.(Machiyama accusing Karasawa for writing bogus and being copy right theft) So now it’s difficult tell whom we can trust.

    BTW,Machiyama also has authored a book on bizarre American TV.


  7. トンデモ本研究学会 – these guys are excellent. They also cover really, really bad fiction – I sometimes use thier stuff to find “so bad its good” books.

  8. So there are no bananas where you are either?? Unbelievable. How is it that women who are already skinny are willing to believe the most outlandish diet schemes?

  9. I wasn’t trying to say you can’t make a critical observation about Japan if the US is guilty of the same fault.

    I have bored a few Japanese blogs before with the view that the west has adopted wholesale many of the low cost programming solutions that Japanese broadcasters developed over the years. People used to criticize Japanese schedules for all the cookery and golf shows. Not only does the west have these in abundance now, there are whole channels given over to them. Shows like Denpa Shonen were running reality formats well before Enedemol came up with Big Brother while audition shows like Asayan were producing acts that went on to generate big sales before Fremantle thought of Pop Idol. The idea of the “tarento” has also been adopted. TV companies discovered that these reality programmes often work better with low level celebrities because the audience can make a faster connection with people they know something about. They are also cheap and generally reliable which is a major reason they are used in Japan. One of the most popular programmes on the BBC these days is “Strictly Come Dancing” where comedians, actresses and sports stars team up with dance professionals and go head-to-head in a ballroom dancing competition. Ucchan Nanchan did something very similar a few years ago.

    Psychic shows are entertainment television in Japan. They are cheap and sensationalist and TV companies worldwide now offer very similar formats. I just think it is too easy to make a connection between their prevalence on the screen and the way in which the population conducts its national discourse because the latter is shaped by numerous factors and I don’t think psychic shows count as an important one.

    Incidentally did you see recent articles suggesting that variety programming is on the decline in Japan? Documentaries are allegedly taking up more space in the schedules. The reason is supposed to be the decline of the youth audience and a demand from the remaining older audience for more information on issues like pensions.

  10. Japan may not have had a James Randi, but “Trick” is one of the most popular dramas of all time and it was all about unmasking fraud preachers and psychics.

    I saw a report on NHK that the banana shortage is not due to the diet – that it is actually being caused by Dubai and other growth-spots in the Middle East outbidding Japanese in their traditional banana spots (there is actually an Iwanami Shinsho “Nihonjin to Banana”). I`m sure that the diet didn`t hurt, however.

    “I don’t think psychic shows count as an important one.”

    There is actually some good evidence for this – surveys revealed that a huge percentage of Japanese were concerned about the Nostradamus prophecies for the millennium. There was no appreciable rush on the proverbial bottled water, SPAM, and ammo, however. In addition, most psychic programming on Japanese TV is totally harmless – Aura no Izumi pretty much just gives life advice in platitudes (follow your dream!) that couldn`t do any harm. Aceface was mourning above about people turning off the news to watch the garbage (and I sympathize), but Japan’s top news shows actually do very, very good ratings (NHK news, Hodo Station).

    There is also the matter of how psychics are portrayed in anime and manga. They are usually frauds who are brutally killed. I`m not sure if that is a good social trend, however….

    I also think that Mulboyne’s last point is accurate – Asahi and NHK have definitely been pushing social issue docos this year and variety is down all over – new dramas are not becoming hits so many key timeslots are being given over to half ass talent collections – this year really has been the pits – Higedanshaku (what, he’s not really a 53rd generation French aristocrat!?), the guy who impersonates Oda Yuji (kitaaaaaaaa), etc. Makes me nostalgic for Razor Ramon HG.

  11. Oops, misread one of Mulboyne’s points – I thought that it was the “variety of programming” that was down, not “variety programming”. I think that vareity shows are still going strong on Fuji and Nihon Terebi anyway, but with more reportage-type stuff elsewhere.

  12. Even if the Japanese public as a whole is not under his or other psychics’ sway, it is scandalous in the extreme that they would even have such a lowlife on the air.

    The most basic fact is TV Tokyo is not held accountable for this rank dishonesty. Nor is anyone on Japanese TV. Reporters who try and look into Kazuko Hosoki’s past get veiled death threats from her thug friends. This guy might not be so “connected” or untouchable but he is definitely benefitting from the culture of impunity.

  13. Come to think of it, Hosoki is worse than this Brazil nut as you can’t always tell where the psychic BS stops and the “life advice” starts with her. I once heard her say something to the effect that guys hit their partners because they “give them too much lip” and that you have to “stand by your man”. Rich coming from an unmarried ex-handjob parlor skank.

    There is a chapter of the manga “Minami no Teio” that does a hell of a job on Hosoki and actually outlines how to launch class action suits against psychics.

  14. You guys are starting to make me think I should actually get a TV. I haven’t had one for like 75% of my time in Japan and I don’t even know who most of these people are you’re talking about.

  15. The way I see it, you can’t get a clear picture of what is going on in this country without having a TV and forcing yourself to watch a few non-NHK broadcasts every now and then.

    Of course, you have to take just about everything with a grain of salt since there is fakery even in the most benign subjects. Example — in a recent NHK special on the Little Rangoon near Waseda University, the intro scene was of Burmese people eating at local Burmese restaurants. That is normal enough so far, but the young woman being interviewed was an NHK reporter I had actually met before. Apparently they just had her sit in and give a token line for the sake of getting a nice shot.

  16. Wait, NHK interviewed an NHK reporter posing as a regular person, without identifying her as such? I know this particular example is extremely minor, but in principle that’s still a pretty big violation of principle.

  17. At any rate it makes you wonder where else they might be cutting corners… Of course almost any documentary can be exposed as taking liberties with strict reality if it is held to close scrutiny, like anything by Michael Moore for example.

  18. ”That is normal enough so far, but the young woman being interviewed was an NHK reporter I had actually met before. ”

    Is this “NHK reporter” a Japanese?Or a Burmese who works for NHK’s Burmese language program?

  19. Michael Moore is making semi-documentary entertainment programming. No matter how much someone might be a fan I don’t think it’s fair to put him in the same category as a documentary produced by a news organization.

  20. “You guys are starting to make me think I should actually get a TV.”

    Do you feel obligated to know about Hosoki Kazuko? I, unfortunately, do. I don`t think that this makes me any happier, however.

    There are options if you want to skip TV and still bag some insights – there have recently been a lot of those “one coin” paperbacks (bad quality paper, manga inserts, etc.) that deal with the “crimes” of TV reportage and go right after TV Tokyo, for example. Just browsing that stuff twice a year (and maybe looking at Japan Probe) can give you enough insight, I think. Anything really, really popular can be rented on DVD later.

  21. Never underestimate the power of television when learning foreign country.Even Sato Masaru was writing in “Couriere Japon”recently that when he studied Sovietology in Sandhurst back in the days of cold war,he was told from exile Russian lecturer to watch the video of Soviet television and learn the Russian pronounciation from news program and watch drama and variety shows to learn about the everyman ethic and slangs.

    I was also told from one of the top Arab expert in Japan that he tells his students to watch arab TV by buying satellite dishes.

    Never underestimate the word 通俗in Japanese,Roy.
    The word has more meaning than “popular” in English.


  22. I just tried keyholetv. Kind of cool, but the 3″ size window and lack of resizing isn’t exactly selling me on it as a TV replacement, and NHK is the main thing I’d want to watch anyway.

  23. there are other resources as well such as jlc’s internet tv and tvu player.
    they’re not substitues but complements to the other.

  24. Yes, I’ve used TVU player and the video quality is many, many times betters than keyholetv. Of course, it also rarely has Japanese channels when I check, but it is pretty good for getting Chinese TV. Makes sense, as it’s a Chinese program.

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