Sayonara, Yokoso Japan

The Japanese government has announced a new international tourism slogan:

Japan. Endless Discovery.

Great, at least this time it’s in English! It’s similar to many other simple catch phrases used by other countries: “Malaysia, truly Asia,” “Seoul’s got Soul,” and so on. The Japanese-language slogan is more of more of a mouthful and literally translates as “Japan, a country where you will encounter endless discovery.” There’s also a new logo with a stylish but classy combo of cherry blossoms and the Japanese Rising Sun.

I like “Endless Discovery” because it has a message that happens to be true. As a foreigner living in Japan most days there’s something new to discover. This message could help put new visitors in the right frame of mind to enjoy themselves. Japan’s not a country like Thailand where you can head straight to the resort and not worry about foreign customs. It’s an adventure in many respects – new food, few English speakers, complicated train system, etc. (and the area outside of Tokyo is even harder to navigate), so why not put a positive face on what Japan’s got to offer?

I’d like to give Maehara and his people some credit for picking a slogan that actually makes sense. It’s comforting to think the people in power might actually understand the outside world a little bit. It’s one big, noticeable difference between the parties.

This will replace the old slogan Yokoso! Japan, announced in 2003 to much confusion by most people who had no idea yokoso means “welcome” in Japanese. Well-known Japan commentator Alex Kerr was especially critical, saying it might as well be “blah blah blah Japan.” It’s been a favorite target of mockery among many in the gaijin community and can currently be seen on taxis, buses, posters, and even transport minister Maehara’s lapel pin. You’ll be missed! The “Visit Japan Campaign 2010” site is still up, so you can soak up some of the goodness before it closes. There’s other questionable language on the site, like “Yokoso Bazar” and “Revalue Nippon.”

Perhaps the best promotion in the campaign was this ad by then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi:

“We will welcome you with a hearty Yokoso and smiiiile.”

I’ll never understand why that didn’t work.

So farewell, Yokoso Japan! You will soon be yet another relic of the past, just like those Tokyo Olympic 2016 ads and the wanted posters for Lindsey Ann Hawker’s killer.


Just as a bit of speculation, some of you might remember that the DPJ has relied on  American firms for PR (Fleishman-Hillard in 2005 and possibly today), while the LDP and bureaucracy often relied on domestic firms (Prap Japan in 2005, ad giant Dentsu in 2009). Could that have had made a difference?

A hard bargain

In a 2ch thread reacting to news of a high-end speed-dating bar catering to older “marriage hunting” women and men (this year’s manufactured social phenomenon), commenters have excoriated a 39-year-old single female flight attendant (an apparent lookalike of former Takarazuka Revue actress Yuki Amami) for her quote, “I am no longer in a position to be choosy. My conditions are that [my future husband] does not smoke, can communicate, and makes at least 10 million yen per year.”

Such high standards reminded me of a recent episode of NPR’s This American Life, in which the hosts discussed just how limited dating options can be once you start getting choosy. I suggest you give it a listen, but suffice to say the prospects for Boston-area chemistry grad students were whittled down to the dozens, if I recall correctly.

So what about this woman’s scenario? Does she stand a chance? Let’s try whittling down the population of Tokyo until we find out how many men would pass muster:

  • Population of Tokyo: 12.79 million people (also see Stat Bureau)
  • Number male: 6.354 million (49.6%)
  • In Amami’s age bracket (25-49): 2.536 million (more generous than 2ch would allow for – see below)
  • College grads: 1,038,492 (assuming college grads are more likely to have communication skills than non-grads. The number was reached by estimating from the facts that 45.5% of high school students moved on to four-year universities in 2006, of which around 90% eventually get their degree (OECD Fact Sheet PDF))
  •  Salary of at least 10 million yen: 103,849 (10%: Though 7.5% of men in the private sector earned at least 10 million yen per year as of 2006 nationwide, I will be generous and say 10% given the age and education group’s above-average earnings and the probably higher wages of the Tokyo area) (PDF page 18)
  • Single: 51,924 (about half?)
  • Non-smokers: 31,414  (39.5% of Japanese men smoke)
  • Attractive to her: 6,282 (1 in 5? This assumes that even if she can’t be choosy, she will still remain superficial enough to avoid lazy eyes, missing teeth, limps, moth ball smell, etc.).

Then what if you divide by between 3 and 5 for other possible dealbreakers, such as religion, politics, sense of humor, blood type, and all that? Not exactly raining men! And this exercise doesn’t even address the issue of her age, which was the biggest bone of contention among the 2-channel posters (specifically, many found the entire premise farcical – a woman entering middle age is delusional enough to think well-off men would consider her marriage material, to the point that 10 million a year becomes the bare minimum, and she thinks they will show up at a speed-dating bar in Roppongi). 

While this is a rough guess and the general bias toward richer and more educated people in Tokyo would no doubt push the number somewhat higher (and she is lucky to be in Tokyo and not comparatively tiny Boston), it is still kind of sobering to see how closely this woman’s search for love (or at least stability) in Tokyo resembles the quest to find the missing Dragonballs.

“No photos please, this is a press conference”

Occasionally, I witness an event so disturbing I have to post it on this blog immediately. Here is just such an event:

I was on my way home from work when I noticed a press conference outside the office (covering the Tokyo police force’s anti-drunk driving campaign with guest star Aya Ueto) . “Stop drunk driving once and for all!” read the signs. When I happened by, some boys in what appeared to be boy scout uniforms were speechifying about how they pledged to campaign against this serious public concern. Directly in front of the stage stood a tightly squeezed group of TV cameras and photographers.

So far so good until I noticed a security guard holding another sign: “No photography from cameras or mobile phones. We will remove anyone taking pictures.” No sooner did I appreciate the irony of ordering no photography at a press conference than an onlooker in a suit reached for his camera, only to be immediately approached by another man. The other man reached out and physically covered the lens of the camera with his hand. He was polite but firm: “No photos please.” I looked on in disgust and headed home soon after.

What a sad display. Here was a government-sponsored press conference and the public was not permitted to record the festivities, lest it cost a TV station some viewers or Dentsu (I am assuming) a bit of marketing power. In the US the police would have a prior restraint lawsuit on their hands. But even without making a free speech argument, it is simply pathetic to suppress citizen camerawork in favor of a media cartel.

Second Life in Japan ‘Depopulating’ – J-Cast

J-Cast news (which, as I may have mentioned, I love for its critical reporting that goes well beyond any of the major newspapers, at least in terms of editorial perspective if not in access or resources) has a report on the “depopulated status” of the Japanese version of Second Life, the massive multiplayer experience popular in the US. A brief translation/abstract:

Nice streets, but where is everybody? Second Life “Depopulating”
J-Cast News

More and more Japanese companies are opening so-called “virtual worlds.” Yet Linden Labs’ “Second Life,” which generated a major buzz in Japan earlier this year, has been in a notable state of depopulation, such that it is difficult to find users actually operating the service. What’s going to happen to these virtual worlds?

New Japanese entries to the market are close to overheating. On December 13, (journal/bookmark site) Hatena opened a members-only beta version of its “Hatena World” to 100 users. Meanwhile, Itochu Co. (trading house), Fuji TV, the Sankei Shimbun, Aeon (Supermarket chain) have invested in a “CoCore” a company set up to run another virtual world called “meet-me.” An alpha version is planned for this month.

But Second Life, which caused a stir when dozens of companies announced that they would set up virtual shops there, has become noticeably depopulated. A J-Cast reporter, sent on assignment to “visit” some of the famous virtual shops, noted many cases in which the buildings existed but no other avatars were around.

“Nagaya,” a sort of virtual Kyoto, was once considered a popular area for Japanese users. Back then, variously attired avatars could be seen chatting, but now there is no one. Softbank Mobile and Mitsukoshi, which opened for business in April and July, respectively, were similarly empty. Even “SIM (Island),” opened on December 3 by Kanagawa Shimbun, was deserted.

In a March 7 article (before the official release of the Japanese version in July) titled “Seven Reasons why Second Life Isn’t Popular,” IT Media (which is itself a great source for original Japanese Internet reporting) cited high system requirements, a lack of purpose, and “having to spend money to do anything,” “the most popular areas are porn and gambling” among others, noting:

“Second Life is still in the early development stage. Before reporting on it with excessive expectations and pumping it with corporate advertisements, the developers should concentrate first on bringing up creators that can make the virtual world interesting and building a healthy community.”

In response to this article, one blogger posted a defense arguing that Second Life is no fun unless you initiate conversations yourself, and that there have been successful examples of several avatars getting together. He was hit with massive criticism in his comment section.

Nomura Research Institute released a study called “Second Life Usage in the US and Japan” on November 9, which revealed how usage of Second Life was hardly widespread. In a survey of 100,000 Internet users in Japan, 53.6% replied that they were aware of Second Life, but only 2.4% actually said they used it. Of a further survey of 1,000 professed SL users randomly selected from that 2.4%, only 27.1% replied that they thought “it was interesting and I want to continue using it.”

According to a December announcement by Linden Labs, while there are 1.14 million SL users, only 40,000 are online at any given time. The lack of continuous users is contributing to the depopulation effect.

Why do I mention this? Because this project was picked up and promoted completely by advertising giant Dentsu. Often, the well-connected company that controls some 90% of the TV advertising market by some measures, has the power to make a “hit” out of thin air. But they are not invincible, and it can look pretty embarrassing in cases such as this where a massive publicity campaign is met with a collective shrug by the Japanese public. As J-Wikipedia explains, “As of 2007, Japan’s domestic media have aggressively covered Second Life, but many are suspicious of the vast gap between [this coverage and] average people’s recognition. Voices on the Internet are critical of the feeling that ‘Dentsu is leading an effort to start a trend by force.’ Dentsu itself has issued a statement that ‘the boom has died down a notch’ causing some to view this mass media-led commercial [campaign] as a failure.”

But as a Nomura source notes, this is only the 5th month since the release of the Japanese version, so things might pick up. But since the American SL itself seems more geared to attract media attention than an actual user base, I wouldn’t count on it.

Wikiscanning Japan

I seem to be coming late to the party, but the amazing Wikiscanner has started to take its toll on the Japanese-language Internet thanks to a nice Japanese version of the site:

Yomiuri reports that Wikiscanner has found that among other things the health labor and welfare ministry and the education ministry have edited articles on themselves and Diet member Nagatsuma (claiming he exploits his stance to make money on the national pension scandal). The rest of the article explains the concept of an IP address for anyone who is smart enough to make it into the government but dumb enough not to know that people can tell what you do online.

Kikko uses the emergence of this tool to make a rant and rave over the inaccuracies in her own entry, but makes the following commentary on the Yomiuri article:

So to sum up, looking at this web news article, I was angry to see that the MIC edited the “electronic voting” article to make the government look good, that the education ministry deleted a passage about the scandal surrounding former Tax Commission Chairman Masaaki Honma, or that the health labor and welfare ministry wrote bad things about DPJ Diet member Akira Nagatsuma, but it made sense just because that’s what they would do. What puzzled me was why someone in the agriculture ministry made a massive amount of edits to the entry on Gundam. We can tell it was accessed during work hours because of the MAFF IP address, but it has zero to do with government administration and could only have come from a Gundam maniac. And this guy is using the people’s tax money to play around on the Internet! So maybe we should find out his name and write a Wikipedia entry saying “He is a ridiculous civil servant who accesses Wikipedia from MAFF computers during work hours and plays around with the Japanese people’s tax money.” (lol)

JCAST notes that NHK has been making lots and lots of edits to a wide range of subjects and whines that they are wasting too much time editing Wikipedia for “personal” use.

So with all the buzz, I thought I would take a stab at seeing what sort of edits Japanese IPs have been making. Feel free to try at home!

Mainichi Shimbun – In the English Wikipedia, Mainichi has edited the post on “MOTTAINAI” a term it has been promoting (in the face of much MF skepticism). This only deepens my suspicions at the cynical Japanese media-government collusion attempting to turn this word into some kind of soft-power buzz word.

People at LDP headquarters are fans of rakugo and J-Pop singer Minako Honda (“Japan’s Madonna”), ego-Wiki, and delete a mention of the involvement with the LDP of someone in the Nagasaki local TV for reasons I can’t possibly understand.

… Someone at Dentsu changed the height of an actress by one centimeter. That is the attention to detail that keeps these guys on top.

… A second look shows almost 300 edits from Dentsu. A rundown:

A line was added to the entry for Calbee (a potato chip company) on the new president/CEO Yasuo Nakata. Previous: “He is the first head of the company from outside the founding [Matsuo] family.” Now after that, “However, Nakata is well-known in the IT industry as a CIO. He also serves as an external director of Autobacs, a car part retailer listed on the First Section of the Tokyo Stock Exchange.”

They added this to the entry for Kirin Beverages: “Starting in Feb 2006, the company started a new Internet shopping business “markers” an experiment with Internet business including selling items other than beverages.” Oh, I wonder whose idea that was?

Lots of minor adjustments to musicians’ discographies, etc.

Multiple edits to the ‘list of fictional diseases’

More possible ego-editing to the page for “media creator” and former Dentsu-man Masahiko Sato

Special attention paid to the AIDMAS “Attention / Interest / Desire / Memory / Action / Share” theory of Internet marketing

…and a bunch of edits to pages for people that I’ve never heard of…

OK, we can do this TPMuckraker style. Search the site and tell us what you find! Things I want to look at at some point: Johnny’s, Yoshimoto Kogyo, Scientology, Soka Gakkai, other media institutions (Nikkei, Asahi, Sankei to name a few) and on and on… I am sure 2ch has it all in there somewhere.

See what Adamu’s reading

It’s not pretty, but I’ve made my Google Notebook public, so MF readers can keep track of what’s been in front of my eyeballs recently, such as Hakuho’s upcoming promotion to Yokozuna and an analyst’s description of Dentsu’s attempts to leverage its near-monopoly of TV ads to dominate the Internet market as well.

A quick look at online advertising through the lens of America

Slate wonders if online ad companies are worth what companies like Google and Microsoft are paying for them:

Last month, big establishment online company Google bought online-ad firm DoubleClick for $3.1 billion in cash. Last week, big establishment advertising agency WPP bought online-ad firm 24/7 Real Media for $649 million in cash. The next day, big establishment tech company Microsoft bought online-ad firm aQuantive for $6 billion in cash.

…this may be less a case of the market being irrationally ahead of the industry’s economic reality and more a case of the market being behind rational expectations for the industry.

Television, magazines, and newspapers may be hanging on because they are more powerful media for reaching the consumers companies most want to reach. But I suspect they’re hanging on for another demographic reason. Advertising is supposed to be a with-it, hot, trendy, tomorrow-based industry. But at root, the business of advertising is one of allocating capital, not cooking up clever jingles. And the people who make the decisions about how to allocate that $300-odd billion in capital each year—CEOs of consumer products companies, Fortune 500 executive vice presidents, media buyers, brand managers, agency heads—well, they’re old. It takes time to climb the corporate ladders to get to the rungs where really important decisions are made. Of course, these people, most of whom came of age as consumers in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, use the Internet, spend a lot of time on it, and buy stuff on it. But they don’t understand it intuitively the way the younger crowd does. Do you think the CEOs of Ford, Citigroup, or Procter & Gamble are uploading photos to their MySpace pages, downloading music, and blogging?

…the question for people who invest in the stocks of online-advertising companies—as Google, WPP, and Microsoft have just done—isn’t just whether online ads are the way to reach consumers today. No, the question is whether online ads will be among the best ways to reach consumers in five and 10 years, when today’s twentysomethings will be buying cars and houses and kitchen appliances and pharmaceuticals. More important, in 2012 it’s possible to imagine that the brand managers and executives responsible for making advertising-spending decisions will be people who grew up with the medium, who didn’t need a consultant to tell them how it works. It’s a reasonable expectation that online advertising will continue to gain market share and that more and more capital will slosh into this sector. The big companies paying top dollar for online ad firms have just bought some expensive buckets.

The points of this article, plus or minus a few details, could be easily made about Japan, with the exception that Japan’s traditional media are much more nervous about aggressively engaging the Internet. I’ll go through them as we proceed to give you what you need, but for now suffice to say that Japan is awash in new technology, the young folks are growing up as avid users, but the managers at the advertisers and the agencies are too old to really get it. But as in the US, the future growth in Internet ads is understood, and traditional companies like Dentsu are realizing that they need to follow where people’s eyes are.

Internet ad startup hit hard by Consumer Finance crackdown

Nikkei has news on poor financial results of many startup companies last year:

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Earnings Growth For Start-Ups Slowed To Single Digits In FY06

TOKYO (Nikkei)–Start-up businesses, which had been piling up double-digit earnings gains, saw their pretax profit growth slow to the single digits for the fiscal year ended March 2007 on a slump in online advertising and intensifying competition.

The latest slowdown among start-ups stands in stark contrast to the double-digit growth major corporations racked up in fiscal 2006 amid the global economic expansion.

While companies such as social networking service provider mixi Inc. saw the unit price for ads rise in line with increased membership, conditions were harsh for online advertising agencies as a whole.

Cyber Communications Inc. (a subsidiary of Dentsu), which posted a 21% profit drop, said that its earnings suffered because financial firms and insurers refrained from advertising.