Lightening up

Lisa Katayama has a piece up at BoingBoing about how people like us should keep our sense of humor when she writes about weird stuff in Japan:

…writing about my own country’s quirks has its downside. I strive to tell each story objectively without condescension or sensationalism, but every time I write an article about, say, the engineer who has a body pillow girlfriend or the grad student who married a Nintendo DS character, I get hundreds of racially-charged comments from readers, long ranting responses from defenders of Japanese culture (ed: Hey, is that a dig at me?) , and dozens of emails from people at big media outlets who want to find out more about these “strange” phenomena.

Why do so many love to gawk at this mysterious, foreign “other” that is Japanese culture? There are plenty of strange things going on in the US too, but when it happens in Japan, it’s suddenly incomprehensible, despicable, awesome, and crazy. This fascination doesn’t just end with angry commenters, either. Over the last couple of decades, it has spawned a huge industry of magazines, blogs, and products themed around Japanese culture marketed to Westerners by Westerners who are also obsessed with Japanese culture.

My friend Joi Ito and I talk about this a lot. He, like me, is Japanese and was brought up with both American and Japanese influences. This question resonates not only with the work that we do, but with our personal identities. While we do our fair share of sitting around analyzing Japanese culture, it’s also deeply personal to us when someone criticizes our country or our opinions of it.

Overriding all this Japanalysis, though, is the fact that none of this is meant to be taken seriously. One important premise of Japanese popular culture is the commitment to have fun and not take offense. Japanese humor works on many different levels and its nuances can be hard to explain to people who didn’t grow up with it.

…you just don’t get it. You’re not in on the joke. You’re the one taking it too seriously, and you might be imposing your own biases and hang-ups on someone else’s situation.Being majime (too serious) is not cool in Japan; likewise it is important for voyeurs of Japanese culture to recognize that most everything pop-culture-y that is exported to the West comes at us with a wink. If you’re all up in arms about it, then maybe the joke is on you.

On the outside, guys like Sal9000 (the guy who married his DS girlfriend) and Nisan (the guy with the body pillow girlfriend) may seem “weird” or “crazy.” But they’ve really just found creative ways to toy with amorphous concepts like love and romance that complement their own unique lives.

I wholeheartedly agree that light-hearted content about Japan should be allowed some breathing room. In fact, I agree with that even for those who sell junk and run for-profit blogs focused on Japan Weird stuff.

Where I would draw the line is when an influential publication like the New York Times trots out this stuff in the service of their tired narrative of an inscrutable, backwards, and weak Japan. Call me a “defender of Japanese culture” if you want, but it’s a line of thought that does more to obscure than enlighten (See the recent silliness from Roger Cohen). The NYT would benefit just as much as the rest of us from “lightening up” as Katayama suggests.

I would have a much easier time accepting this premise from someone who isn’t in the business of producing Weird Japan content that’s intended to be taken seriously. If this piece signals a change of heart, that’s great. But if it’s true that most of the stuff is tongue-in-cheek, shouldn’t she be telling the readers instead of writing an essay about it afterward?

As writers, shouldn’t we be trying to help people understand, instead of chiding them for not getting it?

96 thoughts on “Lightening up”

  1. “Where I would draw the line is when an influential publication like the New York Times trots out this stuff in the service of their tired narrative of an inscrutable, backwards, and weak Japan.”

    Quite. And when authors start explaining it in terms of pop-psychology, and newspapers run it in lieu of more urgent news (underline) stories, it is a problem.

    But Adamu, are you not just feeding the beast? Journos thrive on “impact”, after all.

  2. I am quoted in the piece, which makes it feels like I have been summoned as part of Katayama’s personal career defense. She pitched me the story as “I’m putting together a piece for Boing Boing about the obsession with Japanese obsessions/culture.” The final product seems a wholly different article than what I was expecting.

  3. I think that all countries show quirky, weird, or strange things from other countries. This is an easy form of light entertainment since not knowing cross-cultural differences makes things seem even stranger than the strange things we’re exposed to in our own culture.

    I think that the larger issues are obscured behind talk of not being in on the joke because you’re not a part of the culture it is coming from. The larger issue is that Japan is constantly being framed by the media as the Mecca of Weird, and that does the country a disservice as it has much more depth. This isn’t about “not getting it”, it’s about a constantly skewed and biased portrayal of the country with no or very rare actual insight into the topic. I’m not even sure that the people who write about the fetishistic aspects of Japan even understand the culture as deeply as they seem to want their readers to think. They are just as superficial as those who “don’t get it” as they don’t understand what drives Japanese society to produce such things, nor do they present their stories in any sort of context besides, “isn’t it cool and weird”.

    The same disservice of skewed portrayal in the media is done to the United States worldwide (including in Japan) and that is portraying it as a crime-filled, gun-happy, consumerist madhouse full of fat people. I’m sure that it also is done to other countries. Reducing any country to stereotypes is a form of cultural insecurity and, yes, racist. Japan isn’t the only victim by a long shot, but it is one of the more common ones.

    As a postscript, I’d like to say that I find it amusing that American-raised children of Japanese parents seem to think they have insight. In my experience, you don’t get insight into the culture you are raised in unless you leave it and are exposed to a different one for a long time. Those who are raised in both are actually more disadvantaged in understanding cross-cultural differences because they accept both sides as “normal” rather than one. When I speak of cultural differences with Japanese people, they have never reflected on their own cultural in a macro way because it just never occurs to them that there is any other way of doing things. It’s essentially a case of being in a room with a blue light and thinking all light and rooms are blue. You don’t know that some people might live in a red one with red light if you’ve never really stepped outside of your room. People who live in a culture just never analyze it or think about it. It just is.

  4. Sorry to hear you got roped into something you didn’t sign up for, Marxy. I wonder if Joi Ito is on the same page as her?

    The arguments are muddled – she doesn’t seem to draw distinctions between “exported pop culture” and the rest of oddball content from Japan, for one thing. Nor does she really acknowledge what responsibility she might have in her role as exporter. The overall message seems to be “shut up” – criticism of her work is a personal attack on her Japaneseness and hey we should all lighten up and have fun anyway. There might be a new Katayama feature in the pipeline, so maybe she issued this as an advance warning to try and head off a backlash.

  5. Adamu, I would hardly call you a defender of Japanese culture, and I didn’t think that was role in the Nemutan mega-thread that appeared earlier this year.

    I agree with you that she’s shirking the responsibility of the writer to make the reader understand the crux of her stories in the manner she intends it to be understood.

    I’ve read yesterday’s article twice now, and for the life of me I don’t really understand why she’s writing the piece. Pretty weak sauce overall, if you ask me.

  6. “While we do our fair share of sitting around analyzing Japanese culture, it’s also deeply personal to us when someone criticizes our country or our opinions of it.”

    Then shouldn’t she take her own advice and lighten up about criticism of her writing? Especially if we’re not supposed to take any of it seriously.

  7. Being majime (too serious) is not cool in Japan;

    Really ? I thought it was all about being majime . . .

    Let’s not forget something important here folks –
    just as a lot of cliches are true, unfortunately a lot of
    these stereotypes have a certain amount of truth to them.

    Japanese anime culture is bizzare. Especially if you are a parent
    here (with a daughter) and look at the way women are espoused
    in the comics that are on sell, among flesh, sperm, tentacles
    and robots.

  8. I was just reading an article in last week’s Economist about Bob Metcalfe, the inventor of Ethernet and sometime editor of Info World. He is quoted as saying that “it’s more important to be interesting than to be right.”

    This is definitely true for both bloggers and “real” journalists, at least when it comes to attracting and keeping readers. Even here at MFT, some of our most popular posts have been misinformed but still incredibly interesting. Lisa, of course, chooses the most interesting topics and spins them completely out of proportion, which is how she gets somewhat-serious journalistic credentials while we’re just posting online for fun.

  9. Good point, but I think you are being a little generous to Lisa.

    She is paid to come up with as much “those crazy Japanese” crap
    as possible for the boing boing crowd.

    I say that if she really cares about journalism and writing about things
    worth exposing, she should use her position to illustrate the abundance
    of Lolita porn (my pet peeve !) and flagrant selling of disgusting
    pornographic material in front of people’s eyes, in the context
    of a falling birth rate and somewhat incompatability between
    Japanese young geeky men and liberated, internationalized women.
    Or, how the mob runs the entertainment industry.
    Or, how the comfort women are still ignored by the “new” government
    Or, how children in Japan are forced to go to cram schools just so they
    can learn what they should have learned at school, further alienating
    kids from their families and turning them into information robots
    to function in the big toy porno school that is Japanese soceity.

    but no.
    instead we get a deluge of crap like “isn’t anime weird ?” Ohmygod !
    “those odd Japanese have done it again – a robot that shits cockroaches!
    Special to the New York Times !

    rant over
    *puts kettle on*

  10. I think what Katayama is missing is that a dominant media narrative of Japan which overemphasizes the sort of crazy stuff that you can find in any G8 country if you look hard enough* leads to actual, quantifiable human harm. Which gives us a responsibility to weigh it against the sort of “fun” you can have through, I would argue, more or less misrepresenting, on purpose, the societal import of these kinds of fringe cultural phenomena.

    You guys may think this is a stretch, but is anybody else reading Tokyo Vice? I’m on the part at the end about human trafficking, where the girls are getting tricked into traveling to Japan to be sex slaves. I was surprised to read that a lot of them come from Poland, and Canada, and other OECD countries where education is generally pretty good. So either:

    1) There are always dumb people who can be tricked into doing things that don’t make sense, so there’s probably large-scale sex trafficking of Canadian and Polish girls into the US and Germany and other extremely prosperous countries which we just don’t know about, or
    2) Something is leading women from countries where the infrastructure is such that they really should know better to believe that Japan is so wacky or unique that the rules of human/capital interaction which would apply anywhere else in the word ($40k a month for pouring drinks is not a reasonable salary) do not apply there.

    This is kind of a stretch, I know, but when you create an idea of an upside-down country where the general rules of societal order/the market economy don’t apply owing to some weird essential sociocultural complex, you shouldn’t be surprised when people do otherwise insensible things in relation to that country.

    So propagating that idea is, concretely, irresponsible.

    *Has anybody read Machiyama Tomohiro’s columns for Cyzo? I bought this collection called, I believe, “Naze Captain America wa shinda no ka,” and it’s totally like reading Dave Barry Does Japan in reverse.

  11. Orchid, I am generally on your side in this debate, but I would differ on a couple points. First, I think we have to be careful when trying to say who is and is not qualified to comment on a topic. Basically, I think it should come down to the soundness of the ideas, not the person’s background. Katayama cites her Japanese ethnicity and upbringing as making her more qualified to comment, and you seem to think it makes her less qualified. Ultimately I think it should come down to quality.

    It’s a simple fact that a Japanese upbringing can give someone an edge in understanding what’s going on here, with language probably helping the most. That said, I for example probably have more experience than she does in the Japanese school system and in some areas of life in Japan. So I bristle when people say you have to be Japanese to comment, even as I wish more “Japanese people” wrote in English. Also, I just don’t see the logic of your contrarian argument that being raised in both cultures hurts your understanding of both.

    Joe: I hope we can have an impact being both interesting and right. And in a way maybe it’s a blogger’s job to keep the sensationalistic impulses of more mainstream writers in check.

  12. She reveals herself when she says that she sits around thinking about “Japanese culture”. In reality there is no such thing. There is culture in Japan, and that is what NeoMarxisme and Mutantfrog exist for.

    To me, Katayama reeks of the same parochial bullshit that a lot of Japanese conservatives in Japan stress: “I am dedicated to teaching you about the logic of my society, manifested in ways that you don’t understand. I have special insight because I have Japanese blood coursing through my veins.”

    “Adamu, I would hardly call you a defender of Japanese culture,”

    Particularly not with all that Wendy’s, ersatz Chipotle , and Krispy Kreme you eat.

  13. “I am dedicated to teaching you about the logic of my society, manifested in ways that you don’t understand. I have special insight because I have Japanese blood coursing through my veins.”

    Amen !

  14. However though, Katayama is the antidote to “Marxy”
    in that she doesn’t take herself so seriously and
    in that sense is welcome.

  15. Ran Katayama’s pillow piece by a handful of Japanese colleagues who work on cultural themes and they were not kind. This insinuation that there is some kind of Japanese only knowledge of humor here also fell flat. Really, the joke is on people who follow Katayama as an expert commentator.

    I would fly into a rage if I saw an average North American young person tell a Japanese expert on American cinema that they “just don’t get it”. I have been in the position of speaking at length with Japanese experts on my country and ethnicity and found the experiences both humbling and enlightening. Any attack on this as false knowledge that can never overcome ingrained ethno-cultural knowledge goes against everything that I believe in. If you follow Katayama’s logic to its natural conclusion, you could grab a random 18 year old Shibuya gal and have her teaching Japanese studies classes at Harvard. She grew up there after all. And why not grab a kid from Boisie and put him behind a podium at Todai?

    My problem with the Katayama NYT piece was on an entirely different level than “defending Japan” – how about false statistics that she didn’t look up, how about simply taking numbers from a “local contact” without ever checking up on them, how about an unprofessional reaction to legitimate criticism, how about grossly misrepresenting marginal otaku publications as mainstream, how about presenting a ghoulish performance blogger attention whore as mainstream, and how about using Marxy’s quotes in a manipulative manner in a piece that she intended as an answer to critics of her standards? I can lighten up about Weird Japan – I’m a religious FXucked Gaijin reader and damn, half of Japanese TV self-consciously puts itself into that category and I read no end of exploitation literature. What I can’t lighten up about is someone using racial essentialism as a way of covering for really, really bad writing and analysis.

    Joi Ito, I must say, was very conciliatory after a debate on Neojaponisme a few months back (Otaku and Zen Buddhism?) where he and Katayama were taken to task for some pretty limp Nihonjinron. Katayama needs to rethink her strategy.

  16. After I read the title two or three times and then skipped the first 2/3 to the end I think got the point of what she was trying to say.

    This part is just plain foolish:

    “You just don’t get it. You’re not in on the joke. You’re the one taking it too seriously, and you might be imposing your own biases and hang-ups on someone else’s situation.”

  17. Marxy didn’t need an antidote, he needed a right of final approval on that quote.

    Seriously though, dude shouldn’t have to get criticized for setting up a place for serious discussion of Japanese popular culture online.

    Interestingly, coeval with Katayama’s piece is a rant on Colony Drop that throws down the gauntlet to Danny Choo, Patrick Galbraith, and others.

    I only agree to a point, but it is not really my place to go over there and voice objections. I think those guys have some splaning to do.

  18. I’m getting flack for being too serious from a guy who is even more humorlessly antagonistic towards low-teen idols than I am?

  19. Wow, so many people are weighing in with smart comments it’s almost not worth adding more. My only substantial comment is to Marxy — I work with a bunch of people who are regularly asked to comment for journalists, but who refuse to be quoted on the record unless they can read their quote and browse the article beforehand. Journalists should ethically be bound to respect that, and it’s a good strategy to keep in mind when you’re not sure who you’re dealing with.

    Martin, thank you for succinctly stating what is so racist and wrong with Katayama’s argument.

    M-Bone, exactly. Speaking with Japanese overseas it’s easy to share, sympathize and emphathize with the dilemma of how Japan is portrayed overseas and how that utterly warps the interraction of people overseas with Japanese people.

    And Adamu, WTF is that article by Roger Cohen doing being published? Isn’t he ashamed to have his name attached to teenage navel-gazing nonsense like that?

  20. marxy are you calling me humorlessly antagonistic towards low-teen idols ?

    I’d say that’s a bit rich

  21. Maybe I am confused — seriously confused. You are the guy who wrote this, right?

    “she should use her position to illustrate the abundance of Lolita porn”

    Did I mistake your sarcasm for an actual grievance? If you are against Lolita porn, that would be antagonistic towards low-teen idols, right?

  22. Well if we square those two positions, maybe what he’s saying is she should use her position to write wacky Weird Japan stories about lolita porn. Not sure how she could make it work, but it might be interesting to see.

  23. I think it would be a mistake for anyone to be “antagonistic” towards “low-teen idols”, rather more towards the people that put them there.

    I am not a fan of young jump, for example. are you ?

  24. I don’t think Young Jump is a problem, since the audience for that is mainly boys the same age or younger than the models. The “low teen” stuff that Marxy has written so much about is a very different, and very creepy, animal

  25. LISA – if you are listening –
    We want wacky Weird Japan stories about Lolita porn,
    and as the birth rate falls, so does the bar of decency,
    and the acceptable age to put girls in t-backs even
    before they’ve started Juku.

    You have the power to tell the world how male
    lolita fantasies are not confined to the imagination in any sense.

    Perhaps you could run a story about “paedophile cafes”,
    A bit like Amsterdam but instead of lighting up, paedophiles
    of the world come over for “fun” weekends of reading child
    porn in cafes. It might help the Yokoso! target of 10,000,000 tourists by 2012.

  26. I am not a fan of Young Jump nor really any marketing of young women as half-naked commodities deprived of their humanity. Wait, now I am being too serious again.

  27. well we can agree on that.

    it must be hard to rehabilitate paedophiles
    when you have all this kiddie porn on sale

  28. Roger Cohen had at least six ideas for a story about being in Japan. It’s a shame he tried to just combine them into one lousy article.

    Such a shame: With a little more time he could have written the sequel to Lost In Translation.

  29. Lisa said “One important premise of Japanese popular culture is the commitment to have fun and not take offense. Japanese humor works on many different levels and its nuances can be hard to explain to people who didn’t grow up with it.”

    Really ? Like bashing someone over the head and then laughing out loud ?

    What on earth could she mean ?

  30. tl;dr version of her article:

    I have Japanese blood, which makes me an expert about Japanese culture. If you object to my shallow articles and the errors they contain, you must be some dork who takes things too seriously. Marxy has my back, and I know Joi Ito (who is also Japanese, and therefore an expert on Japan).

  31. You guys are all so damned majime

    Seriously, though, I’m thinking that maybe Katayama hangs up the whole ambassador of weird Jetson-esque Japan Tokyo, and then takes the job as Risa Stegmayer’s replacement on NHK’s Cool Japan.

    Wouldn’t that make everyone happy, or am I being a tad myopic here…

  32. Wait a minute… recalling the NYT piece… wasn’t it we lot who was saying that she needs to lighten up?

    Didn’t she argue that Niisan was a sign of ubiquitous adult virginity and “It’s enlightenment training,” Takuro Morinaga, one of Japan’s leading behavioral economists, told me. “It’s like becoming a Buddha.”

    Wasn’t it we who argued that she needs to lighten up and stop turning these two or three guy into a social phenomenon? The problem that we had with the original piece wasn’t that she was saying “look, here are some zany freaks” it was that she was saying “look, here are some zany freaks that we can use as the basis for sociological comment on contemporary Japan.” Why so serious?

    I think we also see some “turf” interest here. Katayama is recommending Dower’s “Embracing Defeat” as Christmas reading. Apparently, there is no problem with a white dude writing about that (half of the book is cultural history), but leave the otaku that pay my bills alone! You need, like, Japanese blood or something to get them.

    This is where the Colony Drop piece that I linked above rings true for me – Katayama stands to profit monetarily from a loyal following of self-identifying “Western otaku” who I take it are her main audience. So instead of making her readers who, frankly, masturbate to anime porn feel bad, she pitches Niisan as a sad middle-aged guy and a sign of the decline of Japanese love in the NYT piece and now for Tokyomanga and BoingBoing, it is “they’ve really just found creative ways to toy with amorphous concepts like love and romance that complement their own unique lives.”

    This argument that Japanese people are just better at negotiating a new style of simulacra-based culture is flat out apology for a lot of behavior that mainstream Japan would call deviant… and for good reason. It is also a way of throwing people who enjoy manga as narrative culture in with people who buy figures of girls who look like a combination of a cat, an 8 year old, and a musical instrument in order to make the latter subsubculture seem a lot larger than it is. Akihabara becomes a dream of utopia for American otaku (not only a commercial paradise, but they also get to hear how cutting-edge and pomo it all is) and we have to put up with a bunch of bad writing to justify it.

  33. I think Katayama’s piece is mainly criticizing those who take her “wacky Japan” stories as insights into the Japanese population as a whole and who then see Japan as an abnormal country, sometimes in a racially charged way. I don’t think she intended to write a justification for her stories to answer critics who find her guilty of contributing to the misrepresentation, which is the larger charge that many on Mutant Frog would level. Some of the commenters to her Boing Boing piece have pointed out that she would have a stronger case if she provided more context herself.

    My disappointment with Katayama’s work is that I rarely get any sense that she is Japanese. That’s not to make some snide remark about how bi-cultural people are somehow not really Japanese despite having a passport. Most of the things she posts on Tokyo Mango have already appeared in the English blogosphere or are links to articles in English. I don’t see her digging out interesting items in Japanese and translating them for her audience as Mari does on “Watashi to Tokyo” and santos/gaijinheart used to do. Even foreigners who blog about Japan seem to spend more time doing that than Katayama.

    I get the impression that Katayama doesn’t spend much time following stories in Japan in Japanese when she is in the US. The main “local” input she produces, both on her blog and in her journalism, is when she makes a trip back to Tokyo. I understand the criticisms of her article on Nisan, and agree with some of them, but I would give her credit for getting an interview with him in the first place. No foreign journalist or blogger had tracked him down so she can bring something to the party but doesn’t do so very often.

    Conversely, foreign bloggers like Tokyo Reporter and Steve from Tokyo Damage have been doing that routinely for years while Patrick Macias, Neojaponisme and this site also carry interviews from time to time. (Incidentally Marxy, I think Nisan was also reported to be unhappy with the way his interview with Katayama was used so it’s nice to know you both have something in common).

    Katayama might not be inclined to translation but you’d think that, even based in San Francisco, she could pick up a phone occasionally to speak with some principal actors and add some value to her blog by fleshing out the stories she posts. The larger criticism of Katayama, and one that was raised during a Twitter meet-up a couple of days ago, is that she seems lazy. If you are only going after low-hanging fruit then at least try to add some value.

  34. Fuck! Mulboyne said everything I wanted to say first and better. It bugs me that people who are bilingual and don’t use their powers for good. Academics who only translate arcane stuff or pro translators who only translate corporate contracts, . . fie upon them, man! Just because your nihongo skills are rad, you think you’re too good to give something back to the kids? For my money, Katayama’s problem is she DOESN’T do ENOUGH weird stuff- most of the things on her blog are like “USB shiny thing! Here is a .jpg of it I copied off of the company’s site!” I’ll take exploitation over “USB shiny thing” any day.

  35. Japanese people just don´t criticize japanese culture. It doesn´t happen.
    Simple as that.

    Beside communists anyway

  36. Good points Mulboyne – I can’t help but notice that the majority of what Katayama posts is culled from other English blogs.

  37. “Japanese people just don´t criticize japanese culture. It doesn´t happen.
    Simple as that.

    Beside communists anyway”

    You are apparently not living in Japan. Or you can’t read in Japanese. The net recently and some publishing niche is full of books, writings (right wing, I would categorize) loathing that Japan has been take over (especially since the last eleciton) by Japanese who criticize anything “Japanese”.
    They have a special word for them, 反日日本人 (anti Japanese Japanese).

    You are a bit out of touch of reality, aren’t you?

  38. so know 右翼 rants are proof of something?
    Give me a break.
    Of course everyone bitches about what they don’t like, but always to insiders. Japanese people don’t bitch about their own country to foreigners, ever.
    And I would argue that even leftists don’t criticize japanese culture, they just redefine it as excluding rightist themes, while accepting modern expressions such as otakus and キャバ嬢.

    I just would love someone, once, standing up and saying in public that cherry blossoms are lame, that the whole economy is a sham, that overdone politeness produces mental illness. Just for the fun of it.
    Hell even 近衛 prime minister said that taking off your shoes at home is a lame habit. Who would say that now?

  39. So you really don’t read newspapers or books in Japanese?

    Pick up any column, Shasetsu from Asahi Shimbun or Manichi Shimbun or Nikkei from this year, then you will get what you want. Go to the book store and look for business section, you will find tons of book which are blaming “Japanese culture”as the reason why Japan is lagging behind in IT, in “Neo liberalism”, in innovation, in … you name it.

    Go to the section where there are selling books in which authors who have or are still living foreign countries then you will find books in which there are blaming over-politeness or anything Japanese as the reason why Japan want survive the next century.

    Frankly speaking, this type of stereo-typic “Nihonjin-ron” is the target of criticism here. Not the lack of it. These are not created by non-Japanese only, but also very proficiently by the Japanese themself. That is why Lisa Katayama is criticized in this thread.

    Of course it is different from China in which the government decides the target for citizen what should be focused this year. 反汚職キャンペーンとかね。そんな、政府が恣意的に決める目標なんか民主主義国にはない

  40. “Japanese people don’t bitch about their own country to foreigners, ever.”

    This is a bit disingenuous, me thinks.

  41. “Of course everyone bitches about what they don’t like, but always to insiders. Japanese people don’t bitch about their own country to foreigners, ever.”

    ridicilous generalization. I suggest that you read the thread from the beginning.Is Risa Katayama writing in english or in Japanese only? Just a simply question.

  42. But cherry blossoms aren’t lame, not all of the economy is a sham, and politeness doesn’t cause mental illness.

    I think you have a point though. The other day I attended a film screening about Pakistan, attended by a group of American Pakistanis (in the U.S.), many obviously first gen immigrants. After the screening it was very hard for the moderator to get them to stop forcefully, but respectfully, arguing about it, and being quite critical of Japan. I don’t really think you’d see that with first gen Japanese. I suspect there are two reasons for this:

    1. there aren’t a hell of a lot of Japanese immigrants elsewhere, so they tend to band together.

    2. So much of the press coverage of Japan is negative for the wrong reasons.

  43. What the English-language writers seem to fail to pick up on is that both Nisan and the DS marriage were at least partly media stunts aimed at the audience of Japanese bloggers. In the DS case it seems even more like a joke, but even with Nisan it’s almost 100% certain he wouldn’t keep up the “relationship” with his pillow without the validation of his blog readers. Intentional or not, those working for the big media chronically neglect talking about the interplay of media and the public. Presenting a story as a real and serious “trend” is easier and makes it look more newsworthy than going into complicated details of promotional calculations and marketing gimmicks. Also, they have a financial interest in maintaining the sideshow atmosphere of fake news.

    It’s sad because that’s where the truth lies. The proliferation of Internet fringe groups (probably best documented by’s Weekend Web feature, as far as I can see) appears to be the most underappreciated fundamental shift in our society. Take the growth of people who are familiar with S&M concepts, for example. A closer look at Abu Ghraib fall-woman Lynndie England shows she considered the abuse of detainees an extension of her submissive role in a relationship with one of her coworkers at the facility. I certainly don’t have proof but her attitude seems like it just wouldn’t have existed if not for the web forum tribal mentality that lets stuff like this flourish.

    Rather than accuse Lisa of being indirectly responsible for human trafficking, I think it’s more relevant to discuss why her high-profile misreading contributes to a poorer understanding of the topics she covers. Of course, I can only imagine how badly Nisan would be understood by the native Japanese mass media if he were given feature coverage.

  44. Actually I think the DS marriage thing was more or less understood in context, but it was such an outrageously over the top stunt that it’s hard to take it entirely in that context. But then again I only saw the DS wedding mentioned on sites like Engadget, not on any mainstream media whatsoever.

    Katayama’s article about Nisan would have been perfectly fine if she had just left out her theorizing about how it relates to larger cultural trends and focused on his individual story, which was interesting enough on its face, and provided some of the necessary background of his status as an ultra-minor internet otaku celebrity. But hey, there’s no way the NYT Magazine would have run that as a feature.

  45. Oops. I just saw the Kyung Lah piece Joe linked to. This guy just sounds like a version of a Somethingawful forum goon with a lot more money to throw around.

  46. Just noticed that the URL of the BoingBoing article seems to indicate its original title was “Why Weird Japan Sells” which would have been more honest I gather.

  47. “Also, they have a financial interest in maintaining the sideshow atmosphere of fake news.”

    This is an excellent point. One of the things that gets my goat a bit in all of this is the confusion of expertise and expert salesmanship. The Mutantfrog crew and a range of bloggers have demonstrated considerable expertise in writing about a range of Japan topics. I don’t think that professionalized, credentialed expertise is the only kind that counts. However, nobody in their right mind would consider the guy who does marketing for the beef industry to be a culinary expert. I think, to a degree, that Katayama and some others are the Japanese junk culture equivalents of the beef guy. They aren’t there to foster understanding or challenge readers, but to sell a product, which in this case, is either the simulacra fantasy or wacko Japan voyeurism that keeps them in business.

    This is where I differ from Adamu – I’m not sure that Katayama is “misreading” anything. I’m not sure that she’s interested in “reading” at all. Isn’t it, after all, way easier to sell “otaku are like 14th century Zen Buddhists” to American 15 year olds than talking about how many Akihabara types are lost in a late capitalism that sanctions teeny thongs as long as there is money to be made or getting into the political economy of the anime industry over the last three decades? And if you can do that as a day job, why not cash in on a Niisan is a symptom of the sociology of Japanese loneliness in the NYT when they sign the paycheck?

    “Of course, I can only imagine how badly Nisan would be understood by the native Japanese mass media if he were given feature coverage.”

    I’ll say this for the Japanese media, they’ve run some pretty good pieces on the dirty underbelly of “otaku cool” in the past 4 or 5 years. They wouldn’t be afraid to talk about Niisan as a niche porn consumer in one breath and rape porn in the next. Asahi and Fuji have both sent female reporters to be shocked and horrified in Akihabara. Partly to make a point and, yes, partly to put her on display to viewers, but this isn’t bad as far as television goes. At the very least, most Japanese on the street know that they can go their entire lives and not see a guy and his pillow wife on the train.

  48. I don’t see pure cynicism. Instead I see confusion. On one hand, she wants to make a living writing about Japan’s quirks (“why weird Japan sells”) but on the other she wants take a light-hearted approach to analyzing her native culture (“lightening up”). I guess that’s a tension that arises when you make your personal identity an integral part of your career, or really when anyone tries to do what they love for a living.

  49. here we have a perfect example of a japanese person so devoted to defending japan from a foreigner attack that he’ll argue whatever is necessary even in a language he can’t properly speak.
    Lisa Katayama (dude, you can’t tell an L from a R even in writing?) isn’t bitching about japan! She loves it! She is defending it.

    Brice, Im not talking about immigrant communities, I’m talking about inside Japan. Japan has a weird superiority-inferiority complex about its culture which is worth noting.

  50. ok sorry for that.

    By the way OT but Google and Baidu Japan have released new japanese input software (at last!!) Google’s one is pretty standard, but Baidu’s one is fast as hell, strongly recommended.

  51. “here we have a perfect example of a japanese person so devoted to defending japan from a foreigner attack that he’ll argue whatever is necessary even in a language he can’t properly speak.”

    Perfect example? Tomojiro is a moderate man and you are just a polyglot bigot.
    That title has been and will always be with me,spandrell.

    On Risa Katayama“unless you spent more than half your life in Japan as a Schoolgirl, you are no authority”meme:
    What about the other half? Do us,OBs from Japanese educational system can claim to be the authority on this theme?Or do we just have to sit and watch the game just like pretty much everything these days.

    And Brice,I actually kinda think cherry blossom is lame when there are just too many Somei Yoshinos in the country blooming all at once in april.

  52. If you’re annoyed at all the sakura blooming at once, I think 仁和寺 here in Kyoto is famous for having a variety that blooms about two weeks later than the common strain.

    BTW, I knew a Japanese girl (technically Japanese-American but pretty bilingual) in college who spelled her name as Lika and got angry at people who spelled it with an “R.”

  53. “Japanese people don’t bitch about their own country to foreigners, ever.”

    By the way, I would also suggest that your examples of what you see as “Japan” (cherry blossoms, an economics-first obsession, and etiquette) are the standard memes for looking at “Japan”.

    As for the economy, I take it you’ve been in Japan for a few years, right? Did you not notice that everybody since the mid 90s has been bitching about fukeiki. Some have been trying to do something about it. Or did you miss the whole Koizumi thing? Why not type shiwake or gyouseisasshinkaigiinto google with your new input software and see what happens?

    As for touching the third rails that are cherry blossoms and etiquette, that’s like Americans criticising Thanksgiving and the fact that many of them don’t say “excuse me” before they ask a stranger for directions. The former exercise is pointless, and the latter, well, one could wax on about how abruptness is a sign of an overly aggressive, individualistic, me-first culture, but that would be a lame exercise that outsiders would carry out amongst themselves to prove to each other their own cultural superiority.

  54. “Do us,OBs from Japanese educational system can claim to be the authority on this theme?Or do we just have to sit and watch the game just like pretty much everything these days.”

    You used to be a schoolgirl, Aceface?

  55. “Lisa Katayama (dude, you can’t tell an L from a R even in writing?) isn’t bitching about japan! She loves it! She is defending it.”

    Yeah, you could technically romanize Risa (理沙) as Lisa, but attaching someone for romanzing her name according to the most commonly accepted system is kind of lame.

    理沙 to me at least seems like Chinese. Is she part Chinese? I always assumed part American, but maybe not…

  56. OT, but had to add my 2 yen:

    “The same disservice of skewed portrayal in the media is done to the United States worldwide (including in Japan) and that is portraying it as a crime-filled, gun-happy, consumerist madhouse full of fat people. ”

    Heh, I’m a skinny girl in NYC and that’s pretty much how I view the fly-over states.

    “Academics who only translate arcane stuff or pro translators who only translate corporate contracts, . . fie upon them, man! Just because your nihongo skills are rad, you think you’re too good to give something back to the kids?”

    I’m a translator… I can’t speak for the academics who only do arcane stuff (what’s the point?), but the reason so many of us to the usual legal/technical/patent translations is because that’s where the money is. I’d love to do interesting translations, but economics make that difficult sometimes.

  57. Roy:

    I just been to this place in Aichi where cherry bloosom blooms in November.
    It’s hybrid called 四季桜 and I learned nearly 10000 trees in region are all decendent from just one tree.They were multiplied by cutting.Which made me kinda creepy.

    I hope my commentary won’t jeopardize your future posting,Spandrell.
    All we are saying is that foreigners have unlimited freedom of criticizing the politics,the economy,the culture,the history,the people and the cherry bloosoms of this country.Just reminding you that the road goes both ways.
    As you may know,many of us Japanese commenters only possess English ability that stopped evolving since the days of the 8th grade,thus can only take down the commenter with logic of that age group.Nothing personal.

    “weird superiority-inferiority complex about its culture ”

    As I read books like memoir of Donald Ritchie and Edward Sidensticker,it seems to me “the complex” have been shared by the foreign community who resides in this country.And it is them who are the gatekeeper of information and foreign perception of this country.Risa Katayama seems to be the newcomer in this chosen few.Or so I think.

    理沙sounds and reads to me like a good Japanese name.

    “You used to be a schoolgirl, Aceface?”
    I knew some of them,nearly married one.So I know their kind,Ben.Just couldn’t stand Katayama’s gender bias thus the above comment was made.

  58. This, from the BoingBoing article:

    “The simple fact that I’m Japanese quickly became one of my greatest advantages as an aspiring writer. (…) I got major Japan-related assignments from magazines, consulting gigs from print and radio outlets, and a book deal. It was really strange for me, because all I thought I was doing was telling people about the place I came from.”

    Isn’t this basically the root of the issue? Isn’t it less about Lisa selling “Weird Japan” than about Western editors’ expectations/anticipations of the kind of coverage of Japan that will sell? Not that I’m defending Lisa or what she publishes, mind you.

  59. 理沙 is a very normal modern Japanese girl’s name, I think. It doesn’t strike me as as Chinese name at all.

  60. “I just been to this place in Aichi where cherry bloosom blooms in November.”
    That’s quite cool. Where is it?

    I’m sure over the centuries people could have bred sakura that bloom for months instead of weeks or days, but the transitory nature of the cherry blossom is such a powerful metaphor that I don’t think anyone was really interested. 物の哀れ and all that, I suppose. And of course, with long-term blooming sakura there’s be no excuse for all the hanami parties.

  61. Hm maybe we do give her too much credit for choosing what she wants to write about. But I don’t think her editors told her to set up the Tokyo Mango site or write that article for BoingBoing. The editors ask her to write that stuff both because of who she is and who she presents herself as, no doubt.

  62. ” “the complex” have been shared by the foreign community who resides in this country”
    Yeah I know plenty of foreigners for whom Japan is the home for all that is mystic and pure. Which is annoying enough, but not as annoying as when native people do it themselves. Just saying that japanese people could be more relaxed about foreigners laughing or criticizing them, not getting so uptight about “Japan bashing” or seeing racism everywhere.
    But then again while I find this overdone cultural patriotism annoying, Japan has done a pretty good work of preserving its culture, which is commendable. Not all of Asia has to become HK.

  63. If you don’t like the host and the participant of a party that would only leave you with two alternatives.
    One is to leave the party at once and the other is to become a party crasher.

    Japan houses just too many “party crasher”type of expats.If one thinks Japan isn’t mystic and pure,fine.
    But why expect others to agree with you in the first place,especially your opponents?You are asking way too much generosity from others whom you pay no respect.

    I think”Japan” is allowing too much opportunity for “crasher” type to take advantage of the situatuion.This,ofcourse is possible since most of such discussions take place in the language that majority of the native population don’t understand nor can’t properly speak thus isolated from the debate because they can’t fully represent their thoughts and contextualize them in the discussion.


    The name of the place is 豊田市小原

  64. I’m curious: are there any examples of great English-language reporting from Japan? Any stories that pass your muster? Who’s getting it right? Anyone besides Marxy?

  65. I agree with that, and am leaving soon. No intention of staying in a country just for the fun of bitching about it.
    But saying that agreeing with someone means “generosity” is a denial of debate. I am making an argument, which may be right or wrong, all which has no relation to my respect of you. I may hate you and want to eat your babies but that doesn’t make my argument invalid or false.
    You’re basically saying that my position hurts your feelings, so I should shut up. Which is a very good summary of the japanese way of debating, so worked up with 謝罪 and 說明, instead of actually addressing the issues.

    And anyway, Japanese culture has a built in mechanism against foreign criticism, so don’t worry about bitchy foreigners, they (we) have no real influence.

  66. American slavishly follow their militarist government.

    See, that’s not a position, its an insult.

    From an article about the 2002 Iraq War vote – “The directionless Iraq War has killed over 4,100 US soldiers and wounded or maimed more than 200,000 more, and has delivered a devastating blow to our country’s reputation and moral authority.” I ask – If the author is defining herself as a liberal, why is the damage caused by the Iraq War only defined with reference to US casualties? What about the Iraqi people? US liberals have often failed on this front.

    See, that’s a position.

    “Japanese people just don´t criticize Japanese culture. It doesn´t happen.
    Simple as that. Beside communists anyway.”

    This, on the other hand, is just being bombastic and combative, you can be very dismissive and insulting to other posters who try to include some evidence nuance in their posts.

    Trying to run Tomojiro and Aceface out of the discussion isn’t going to win you any friends.

  67. “Japanese culture has a built in mechanism against foreign criticism, so don’t worry about bitchy foreigners, they (we) have no real influence.”

    Sometimes they do.But what count are what they bitch about,not that they are being foreign.

    “But saying that agreeing with someone means “generosity” is a denial of debate. I am making an argument, which may be right or wrong”

    That’s not what I meant.Your “argument” is pure insult and there isn’t much meaning in your”debate” since it lacks any factual basis.You are counting too much on generosity of others when you are asking someone to accept your sudden intrusion of ranting and hate speech in the discussion as somekind of meaningful criticism.

  68. wow wow
    Looks like the bar of what counts as an insult is a bit low here.

    If I wanted to sound insulting I’d just say that japanese are emotionally handicapped freaks who are modeled into robots by its medieval education system.

    Guess I’ll have to buy one of those 人間関係がうまくなる books at the conbini to learn some proper polite behaviour. Sheesh.

  69. “Looks like the bar of what counts as an insult is a bit low here.”

    Well instead of you make any appropriate retort to Tomojiro’s comment on your “argument”and start blaming the Japanese lack of distinction between L and R,this was bound to happen.
    But we should put back the discussion the way it is supposed to be.I think everyone who had read this must have enough with both of us by now.It’s about time to end this low level row.

  70. Hiroko Tabuchi wrote: “I’m curious: are there any examples of great English-language reporting from Japan?”

    “Great” is a big word to use. “Great reporting” sounds like something worthy of a Pulitzer. You are in the business yourself, can you think of any Japan reporting which would warrant a Pulitzer?

    Herbert Bix and John Dower won for their books but the only reporter I can remember recently who touched on Japan was John McQuaid who won a Pulitzer over ten years ago for a series of articles on the global fisheries business. Does any Japan reporter these days set out to write an article worthy of a Pulitzer? Is that the fault of the reporters or the editors?

    I think we’ll all settle for decent, rather than great, reporting in the absence of prize winning ambition. There are a lot of Japan reporters who are all capable of decent work and put out good pieces for the major titles. However, many of the same people are also guilty of lazy articles on occasion and that’s when the criticism comes. Lazy pieces might be forgiveable if you are shooting the lights out elsewhere but otherwise they just make you below average.

    Bob Johnstone for the New Scientist has put together a good body of work over many years. Because of his brief, he hasn’t had to resort to identifying bogus trends or focus on “wacky Japan” stories. Perhaps no-one would employ him for that job today. Darrell Houston visited Japan in 1970 on a grant from the Alicia Patterson Foundation Program. Not all his stuff stands up but, with no Japanese skills, in a short time he covered more subjects and in an engaging fashion than you tend to find these days. Personally, I always found Kaori Shoji did a pretty good job when she took on a subject. You also won’t find many bad pieces from the Tokyo Reporter.

    I don’t think anyone should seriously put pen to paper without reading TIME magazine articles from the 50s to the 70s. They aren’t marvellous but they ought to give any serious journalist pause for thought before they write about hostesses, host clubs, the yakuza, prostitution, consumer trends, salarymen, Japanese youth, militarism, political infighting etc. On another forum, I linked to around a dozen such pieces which, with very little alteration, could appear today (and sadly often do). It doesn’t cast current Japan journalism in a good light when you realize how much it repeats stories which were written over 30-40 years ago.

  71. It seems as though for every one person who might write something about Japan (reporting Pulitzer worthy, there are 100 lining up to write the latest article about USB eyelash curlers.

    If I as a hungry young reporter with resources and I wanted to bag a Pulitzer doing Japan reporting, I would take one of two routes – follow a family who have lost their home in the recent economic downturn and report everything that they come in contact with – bureaucracy, NGOs, veteran homeless, indifferent employers, haken. Follow changes in their world view, life space, how people react to them, etc. The second would be to write about Futenma from Okinawa – locals for and against, a spectrum a American residents (military will often say some shockingly candid stuff in private that could be reported anonymously), mixed couples, poverty and dependence, mainland intrusion into debates, try to come up with something new to say about what the bases mean for what it means to be Okinawan. Chalmers Johnson’s Okinawa writing got a lot of attention and there is plenty of potential for a more personal piece.

    On a different note, it is ironic that Dower considers Takemae Eiji’s writing on GHQ to be where it is at and Bix is very open about his Japanese influences in the preface of “Hirohito and….”

    I also don’t know why more reporters don’t simply copy good Japanese reportage when they see it. The NHK “Working Poor” project is just the kind of thing that would win a Pulitzer if it were American.

    One of the problems with Japanese reportage and comparing it with American is that newspapers are too middle brow and conservative in putting together a consistent interpretive product (you don’t win a Pulitzer for ornery shasetsu), shukanshi too low brow… maybe shinsho are just right.

    高橋 哲哉 靖国問題
    岩田正美 現代の貧困 ワーキングプア/ホームレス/生活保護
    湯浅 誠 反貧困―「すべり台社会」からの脱出
    堤 未果 ルポ 貧困大国アメリカ
    山野良一 子どもの最貧国・日本
    阿部 彩 子どもの貧困―日本の不公平を考える
    大泉啓一郎 老いてゆくアジア―繁栄の構図が変わるとき
    氏家 幹人 サムライとヤクザ―「男」の来た道 (a lot better than “Iron John”)

    There is usually some uneven quality within these sorts of books – they would likely be done as a magazine feature in the US and are blown up into book form in Japan – but I’m pretty happy with the mix of different methods (broad social sketches and then Japan from the eye-view of a single family in the recent critical ones).

    Notice that most/all of these are topics that are critical of Japan – it isn’t that that bothers me about Western reportage – it is the slapdash nature of quite a bit of it, the sweeping generalizations, and the inability to bring much of anything new to someone who reads Japanese material anyway.

  72. Hiroko:
    On a personal level, I am basically satisfied with English reporting on Japan, though some of the other commenters here might differ with me. There is a wide variety of options, including the Japanese media services. And in my case, I can and do regularly tap Japanese-language sources. Therefore, it’s easy to filter out the bad and take only what I need.

    As for people doing great work, I suggest you look in the mirror.

    Bloomberg, WSJ and FT also tend to be pretty good (I might just say that because I am focused on the business press). David Pilling is a favorite of mine, though he has since been promoted and does not seem to publish regularly on Japan anymore.

  73. Now that you mention it, Tabuchi is doing a great job.

    I liked “How Do Japanese React to China’s Rise? Depends on Their Age” best among the ones that I remember. Nice balance of pessimism/optimism and a variety of views. And this one is pretty much along the lines of the “self critical” reportage that I called for above – “In Japan’s Stagnant Decade, Cautionary Tales for America”. Great work overall.

  74. I don’t know.Covering on Japan and getting Pulitzer is pretty difficult.Both Bix and Dower were awarded as historian,not as journalist.Japan isn’t hot spot for “powerful story” like China or Pakistan.Reporters tend to flock to the same destination as the war photographers and clearly Tokyo isn’t a war zone.

  75. Yeah, I agree that Tabuchi is good, mainly in that her work is accessible and can bring the reader from zero to marginal understanding in a page or two. Marxy is actually not that good in this respect. I consider myself to be pretty familiar with Japan, but Marxy goes way over my head at least half of the time, usually when he’s focused on minutiae of pop culture.

    On the other hand, most English business reporting in Japan is basically just compiling press releases. I rarely learn anything substantial from these articles, although they can sometimes be good for prompting further personal investigation.

  76. Thanks and apologies if I sounded like I was fishing for compliments. That wasn’t my intent at all. After following this and other similar debates, I was genuinely curious as to whether you thought ANY of the foreign coverage on Japan received a passing grade (yes, “great” is a strong word).

    The NYT gets a diverse group of people to write about Japan (and apart from our own stories, we at the Tokyo Bureau never know what’s coming.) Lisa Katayama was a first-time contributor to the NYT Magazine, which has a completely different set of editors from the paper. Roger Cohen, an op-ed writer for the IHT, was in Japan to take part in a Tokyo Foundation conference ( and apparently decided to write some pieces from here.

    We’ve had some nice op-eds by Kumiko Makihara recently, as well as contributions from Miki Tanikawa (he — yes, Miki’s a man — is a veteran journalist who used to be a business reporter in the bureau.)

    One line of argument I strongly disagree with though: the notion that how Japanese you are — if that can be measured — is somehow related to the quality or validity of your work. I don’t see how that’s anything but a simplistic, racist view. Watch out, for example, for any work by Jake Schleschinger — the new Tokyo bureau chief at the Wall Street Journal, my former home. He’s been a away for a while, but his work in the 90s was, I’d venture to say, great.

  77. “and clearly Tokyo isn’t a war zone.”

    If Patlabor 2 happens, I’ll go for a Pulitzer.

    Actually, Dower and Bix won for “General Non-fiction” which could theoretically include book length treatments on any Japan topic (and a lot of the books nominated are big thumping American journalist social story types). The Pulitzer for History is only for history of the US of A.

  78. Hiroko:

    I am a pretty reasonable guy, but it might not always show up in what I write here. Good stories often stand on their own, so sometimes there’s not much to add. It’s a lot easier to write about something you disagree with.

    I agree that Japaneseness doesn’t matter. If I didn’t I’d have to delete my MFT WordPress account.

  79. OK,so Dower and Bix won the award as “non-fiction” writer.But what they wrote about is the period that was much more graphic and interesting for outsiders to cover than 21st century Japan,I guess.

  80. What’s strange to me is that she claims to write these things because she is an insider, but it seems she’s writing things an outsider would write about and in the same way.

    And since she’s writing it for outsiders it’s strange to tell people that they just don’t get it…she’s supposed to be writing for people who don’t get it, so why would she write in a way that her audience can’t understand?

  81. Mulboyne: Thanks for all the links, I’m just getting around to reading through them now and this is all great. It’s pretty much stuff I already know about, but the specific quotes are just great.

  82. Jake Adelstein has this to say in his Japan Times interview with Mark Schreiber:

    What do you see as the greatest stumbling blocks to getting news on Japan out to the English-speaking world?

    The greatest stumbling block is that foreign correspondents are dropping like flies. Time magazine is supposedly shutting its Tokyo bureau office — and Business Week as well. Of course, Time could move their offices out of the uberexpensive Roppongi Hills and come down off their high horse and still maintain a presence in Japan — but they don’t. The bean counters that now run the place really don’t care about international news anymore, as far as I can tell. They figure they can just cut costs and content, I suppose. Well, the magazine is already so thin that sometimes it’s hard to tell if you have a magazine or a pamphlet — but I guess it could get thinner.

    The Tokyo bureau is probably Time’s oldest office in Asia. It’s my opinion, so forgive me if I’m wrong — but Time leaving Tokyo is an insult to its readers and the final resignation of any pretensions of being an international news magazine. I think no one running the magazine knows what it’s supposed to be anymore. It’s time I subscribed to the Economist.

    It’s possible to cover news in Japan cost-effectively and well. Hire someone who is living in the country and bilingual, and then you don’t need to pay for a translator, too — saves money. The New York Times hired Hiroko Tabuchi, locally, and she does amazing work — not only because she’s an excellent reporter but also because she’s literate in Japanese and bicultural. The International Herald Tribune relies on The Japan Times’ own Kaori Shoji for relevant coverage. I hear the Washington Post is thinking of sending another correspondent over to Tokyo who doesn’t speak Japanese. That’s inefficient, costly, and nonsensical in this day and age.

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