Monday, July 21, 2008

Some Thoughts on the WaiWai Incident

RD sent me Japanese set the blogs on 'sleazy Australian' writer, an article by Justin Norrie, a correspondent from The Age. Please read it before you read on; thank you.


There are a few significant inaccuracies and omissions in Mr. Norrie’s report. Let me explain.

[T]housands of posters have flooded chat sites to decry the "sleazy Australian journalist" who they feel has deliberately besmirched Japan's image around the world.

Is Mr, Norrie sure of his figures? The anger has been directed mainly at the Mainichi newsgroup and the Mainichi Daily News in particular, and much of the anger directed against Ryan Connell does not turn on his actual intent. I do understand the article’s focus on the Australian journalist though; The Age is an Australian newspaper.

The piece, [which cited a Japanese magazine article about a restaurant where patrons allegedly have sex with animals before eating them,] caught the attention of a blogger called "mozu", whose angry post was soon picked up by 2channel, a huge, fractious web forum popular with Japan's hot-headed conservative element..

Actually, the blogger formerly known as Mozu (now going by the name Mozu@ to distinguish him/herself from other Mozus) provided a thoughtful, restrained post on his blog Mozu no Saezuri (Warbling of the Shrike) that questioned the decision by the mainstream Mainichi Daily News English webpage to provide English-language digests of sleazy articles from Japanese tabloids, expressed the fear that the reports would form overseas opinion among readers who might accept them uncritically, and chastised Mainichi for its continued failure to ignorerespond to his/her complaints. As for the story about the bestiality restaurant, it appears in a post on the blog néomarxisme—an excellent Japan-themed blog by produced W. David Marx—which Mozu@ translated and quoted in its entirety. The story was material to Mozu@’s post, but only as part of a testimony that provided added insight into how WaiWai affected perceptions overseas. Finally, Mozu@ is one of the most well-read and intelligent people I’m aware of, online or off-. Anger management would be the last of items to appear on his list of personal needs. Mr. Norrie obviously wrote this on hearsay.

There it triggered an explosion of bile and culminated in a co-ordinated attack on Connell, his family, the Mainichi and its sponsors, some of which have dropped advertising estimated to be worth millions of yen.

Mr. Norrie appears to be referencing a couple of wiki sites here and here when he writes of “a coordinated attack”. But the two wiki sites are actually restrained, informative, and well-designed, and the only personal information there on Ryan Connell pertinent to this story is that he has a Japanese wife. No doubt there must have been many attacks on these people and institutions, many of them ad hominem and some of them threatening physical harm. But to call the entire outcry “a coordinated attack” obliterates the chasm between the worst of the anonymous raving and ranting on the 2 Channel forum (to be fair, the wiki sites encouraged use of 2 Channel as one vehicle for protests*) and the legitimate criticism rained on Mainichi and the deputy editor of its English webpage and virtual WaiWai proprietor Mr. Connell.

Which brings me back to the first point. Read through to the end of Mr. Norrie’s report, and there is nothing to suggest that he is even remotely aware of Mozu@’s original question. Mr. Norrie ignores the constraints imposed by the lack of knowledge about the language and culture of his place of work and does nothing to compensate. As a result, he misrepresents pertinent facts and fails to address the key issue. Overall, he appears to be falling prey to the Myth of the Right-Wing Monolith,

And now, a really small quibble:

There are many WaiWai stories, such as the one about mothers who pleasure their sons to stop them from chasing girls at the expense of school work.

There are many WaiWai stories… that what?

I happen to think that Mr. Connell is a fine writer. Mr. Connell, as anyone who has seen his WaiWai work knows, has a fluid style and a gift for eye-catching headlines that should be easily transferrable from the rough-and-tumble sleaze and tease of the WaiWai tabloid world to the more stately pages of mainstream media. He is also fluent in Japanese. Come to think of it, perhaps The Age should replace Mr. Norrie with him. Even better, he won’t need an expensive ex-pat compensation package.

My take on the WaiWSai site is that it was something that Mainichi should never have gotten into. Imagine The New York Times producing a Japanese-language online edition and devoting much of its resources to producing a webpage filled with digests of the sleazier reports from, at best, the New York Post to, at worst, The Weekly World News and everything in between.


Janne Morén said...

Mainichi does come across as trolling for hits, dragging whatever journalistic integrity they have in the mud behind them. Shortsighted and a little stupid. As a media company they should be well aware of what happens once a publication starts taking the low road for quick readership boosts.

At the same time, as far as I know Connell never made things up himself. He just translated and re-reported articles that have appeared in the Japanese mass media already. The reaction from some quarters is rather overwrought (and I'm inclined to include the calm and reasoned reactions). It's not like Japan is the only media market with this kind of media underbrush. Worrying that foreign readers can't distinguish the absurd from the believable speaks to me of a rather condescending view of the readership as dense and gullible; that the poor foreigners need to be protected from misunderstanding the too complex Japanese (media) culture, since they are unable to make reasoned evaluations themselves.

Overall, I'm not particularly sympathetic to anybody here (except Mr Connell). A major daily can't dabble in trash journalism and expect not to take a credibility hit. People should not believe they live in a walled garden and demand to have any control over what is and is not made know outside their own borders. Nobody comes off smelling of roses.

Jun Okumura said...

Janne: I can go along with much, if not most of what you say. Here are two counterarguments and one supplementary comment.

I support W. David Marx’s opinion over yours with regard to the effect of those WaiWai articles on the minds of people who are not familiar with Japan. You would have less trust in the public’s ability to separate the informational wheat from the chaff if you remembered how so many Americans still believe that Saddam Hussein helped Al Qaeda bring down the World Trade Center and that Barack Hussein Osama, sorry, Obama is a muslim (NTTWBAWWT). Closer to your current place of residence, how about the Japanese and South Korean aversion to U.S. beef? I could go on…

Ryan Connell is not nearly as blameless as you make him out to be. Gaijin status only confers immunity from a parking ticket when you can convince the mini-pato no oneesan that watashi nihongo shaberemasen. Seriously, he was not a simple translator merely following orders. As deputy editor, he must assume editorial responsibility.

I agree that much of the response was excessive. But it always is, you know—anywhere, anytime. The anonymity of the Internet has a corrosive effect on civility. That is one of the main reasons why I’ve chosen a single, real-name identity for myself on my blog and elsewhere. Having said all that, the issue would have been settled more easily had Mainichi and its staff not chosen to blow off the initial approach from and concerns expressed by Mozu@ and others.

Janne Morén said...

Ok, I agree that Connell is far from blameless. I was not thinking of his gaijin status though, but only about his "working stiff" status here; he was hired to do a (legal) job, with the decision to have the job performed decided by his employer. He was passing on already published stuff as entertainment, and he could reasonably assume that since it's already published once that there was zero reason for it to cause a stir when repeated. My sympathy from him stems from him being the low guy on this particular totem pole, and he is the one that loses his job and his income for his troubles.

But I think maybe I wasn't clear on why the response rankles me so. Yes of course there'll be people that believe the stories. Just like there's plenty of Japanese believing anything about the US or Europa - no matter how moronic - if it fits with their preconceptions.

Also, there's no doubt Japanese that believe the stories in the Japanese tabloids; there's plenty of Americans believing The Weekly World News (up to and including stories about women carrying the love child of Elvis' ghost). The same kind of drek is published all over Europe and there's people believing it there as well.

But the reaction was not about this crap being published. They do not call for it to be stopped here in Japan. They specifically call for it not to be passed on to foreigners. Japanese are apparently adults enough to take responsibility for vetting the news, or not as they may choose. But foreigners can't be trusted to come to the "right" conclusions so we have to do it for them.

If those stories are so embarrassing then they should go after the weeklies that publish them, not try to silence people passing them on.

And in a very real way, the stories themselves _are_ part of Japanese culture. They are published here and people do read them; ugly or not, they have a place in the overall cultural fabric. And as such they deserve to be translated and passed on. And if some people are taken in by them, then so be it - there's people taken in by them in Japan as well.

Jun Okumura said...

They do not call for it to be stopped here in Japan. They specifically call for it not to be passed on to foreigners. Japanese are apparently adults enough to take responsibility for vetting the news, or not as they may choose. But foreigners can't be trusted to come to the "right" conclusions so we have to do it for them.

You have a very good point there. In all fairness to the more sober elements of the protest, though, the Manichi venue lent an aura of credibility to the reports that they did not deserve. I imagine that there would be a largely negative—if less heated—response from the Japanese readership to a daily section in the Japanese Mainichi that displayed tabloid articles from around the world.

Having said that, I can easily imagine the same kind of outcry or worse in democratic South Korea or authoritarian China if Chosun Ilbo or The People’s Daily did something similar on their English-language websites, whereas Swedes, for instance, would laugh it off for the most part. What do you (or anyone else who’s reading this) think? And why?

And in a very real way, the stories themselves _are_ part of Japanese culture. They are published here and people do read them; ugly or not, they have a place in the overall cultural fabric. And as such they deserve to be translated and passed on.

So true. In fact, a friend of mine has brought to my attention a similar undertaking in a different media outlet that has been going on for years. There are several differences, the most important being a clear disclaimer at the bottom that WaiWai lacked (I think; I wasn’t a regular follower of WaiWai so I can’t be sure).

Janne Morén said...

Having said that, I can easily imagine the same kind of outcry or worse in democratic South Korea or authoritarian China if Chosun Ilbo or The People’s Daily did something similar on their English-language websites, whereas Swedes, for instance, would laugh it off for the most part. What do you (or anyone else who’s reading this) think? And why?

Let me think aloud for a moment: Sydsvenska Dagbladet starts an English-language column with weird, non-factual stories pandering to moscinceptions and myths about the society.

There'd be two reactions. One will be a lot of earnest, heavy-handed explanations (you've read my writings; you know the style) about how these stories are of course very amusing, but in fact 20-something blonde women with very little clothing will _not_ mob hapless business travellers at the airport; and the lack of winter sunlight combined with Abba listening marathons does not actually lead to periodic outbreaks of singing vampires.

The second reaction would be a somewhat giddy realization that perhaps there are actual people outside Sweden that know and care about its existence.

But no, I would not anticipate any kind of negative or angry reaction from anybody. This is a country, after all, where people were proud and pleased when Army Of Lovers became Swedens most visible presence in Europe for a while.

Jun Okumura said...

I think that most European countries as well as the United States and other predominantly Anglo-Saxon countries would react more or less in the same vein. My guess is that predominantly muslim countries would react even more strongly than Japan, except they probably don't have those kinds of tabloids. It's something that deserves study.

Seriously, I thought ABBA was our biggest cultural export. And speaking of Army of Lovers, didn't La Camilla appear in blackface in the original video? I remember thinking she must be a South Asian, likely Indian.

And now, for those of you who can read Japanese, I've located two sources, one a compilation of online media reports on the WaiWai incident

Follow the subsequent link (English) and you can see that Mainichi did have disclaimer of sorts, although it apparently did not disclose the nature of the publications, i.e. tabloids, that it was using.

Moreover, although it appears to have presented the posts as pure summaries, so it undermined its disclaimer by embellishing some of the articles. The following must have particularly rankled conservatives:

That's it. There's too much material out there to do justice to. So, for the time being, I'm gong to let the matter rest.

eschatron said...

Having said that, I can easily imagine the same kind of outcry or worse in democratic South Korea or authoritarian China if Chosun Ilbo or The People’s Daily did something similar on their English-language websites, whereas Swedes, for instance, would laugh it off for the most part. What do you (or anyone else who’s reading this) think? And why?

On behalf of Canada: If the CBC (our national public media outlet) did it there would be outrage about how our tax dollars are being spent. Beyond that, I doubt that very many people would bother to get upset if local tabloids were published to the world. My own response would be something along the lines of "It's just entertainment, and there are enough people from country X actually living here to prevent any misinformation from being taken too seriously."

In terms of international perception, I believe there are two things that really cause widespread anger here. American stereotypes about Canadians, and being lumped in with or confused with America. It's kind of a classic case of being so close together that we obsess over the differences. So if a paper were publishing humourously stereotypical stories about Canada, targeted to Americans, that could possibly create a scandal of WaiWai proportions.

But I think that's really more like if Mainichi had had a Korean-language section furthering Korean stereotypes about Japan, which I find unimaginable to begin with.

Jun Okumura said...

If NHK (our national public media outlet) did it, heads would roll. The rest of your assessment of the probable response appears to confirm my guess, with one important addition. I can’t help but note that your explanation that “there are enough people from country X actually living here to prevent any misinformation from being taken too seriously” reminds us of the rapidity with which Canada (and Australia, to name another) has transformed itself from an overwhelmingly white, predominantly Anglo nation to a multiethnic, multicultural one.

I’d always thought that the Canada-America thing was greatly exaggerated. Your comments suggest that it was not, still isn’t. I was only an elementary school student in Montreal, so I probably wasn’t old enough to notice any ambivalence towards its southern neighbor. In fact, in our joint 5-6 grade class, we held a mock U.S. Presidential election debate—it was an experimental class. (It was a JFK cakewalk.) I wonder, though, how being an Anglo society in a sea of Francophones affected feelings toward its southern neighbors, particularly on the eastern seaboard. The East-West divide was, I think, much wider in those days.

eschatron said...

I’d always thought that the Canada-America thing was greatly exaggerated. Your comments suggest that it was not, still isn’t.

I should add a disclaimer here that I'm a professional student, so my sample of Canadian views is somewhat left-biased. Certainly if you asked white salary-men from Alberta you'd find many who disagree with me. But, public opinion of our political parties could probably (I channeled my inner Ryan Connell with that alliteration) be considered very crudely representative of pro/anti-American sentiment here. At the very least, Green, Liberal, and NDP voters are more likely to be anti-, and they make up over 50% of the population at a national level.

That said, my first answer is that it changes with the times. Ten years ago we weren't as worried about America, and there was even a certain fondness for Clinton. Two wars and a lot of Bush have really polarized people. Not just because of the general unpopularity of all three of those things here, but also because their unpopularity abroad makes us more sensitive to the extent to which we're associated with them. (Though we have been active in Afghanistan all along, whether or not we should be is still a matter of constant debate.)

My second answer is that our current PM, Stephen Harper, is widely perceived as a Bush-puppet. This has the effect of increasing Americaphobia among those who dislike Harper already and I'd imagine that that, in turn, makes the comparison even more profitable for his political opponents the next time around. It's a tactic that the left-of-centre parties are actively exploiting. (Further to my speculation about public opinion above, the frequency with which the Harper-Bush comparison gets made by Liberal and NDP leaders is likely a good gauge of how their voters feel about America).

As for your personal experience, you're probably aware that Quebec's politics are historically more focused on the relationship between Quebec and the rest of Canada than between Canada and anywhere else. Montreal may be a bit of an exception, but it's still around 70% Francophone. And, extrapolating dates from your mention of JFK, I believe the period just before the Vietnam war was a very good one for Canada-US relations. If I'm in the right ballpark there, you may not have noticed anything even if you had been old enough.

Jun Okumura said...

A professional student? When I was a freshman, there were guys who’d been around for six years without progressing to the junior stage. Now that’s what I call a professional student. We knew about such people because you had to matriculate in eight years max, so at the end of the school year, the authorities would tack up notices to sixth-year guys who were failing and would not have enough time to graduate. I assumed that the authorities would tell advise the guys to take the year off so that it would not count against his eight-year limit. I know that sounds indulgent, but this was a public university when Japan really was Japan.

I think it also helped that even before President Clinton, President Bush I had dampened separatist sentiments by telling the Quebecois that an independent Quebec would not automatically be a member of CAFTA. Bush Sr. being Bush Sr., I suspect that he had harsher words in private.

I was a member of the Anglophone community. (I even went to a few Protestant churches). There was no overt tension in Montreal that I was aware of. However, I knew that Anglophones ran the economy while the Francophones ran the municipal government, and Réal Caouette came out of nowhere to become the No.1 party in Quebec in 1962, the year I would leave Canada. More directly related to the issue at hand, early into my stay in Montreal, we gained access to American TV broadcasts by way of special antennas, which meant that we now only needed CBC to watch Montreal Canadiens and (in my case) pre-WW II cartoons—and the occasional Wayne and Schuster special. I think that brought America much closer to English-Canada Quebec (mainly Montreal).

Benjamin said...


No long post here, I just wanted to commend you on a sane and thorough analysis.

I enjoy reading your blog very much. Keep up the excellent work.

Jun Okumura said...

Thank you very much, Benjamin. It's comments from people like you and the trips to their blogs that make it worth the effort.

I hope you enjoyed the comments. They are often the most fun parts, much like the Q&A after the speech.

eschatron said...

we gained access to American TV broadcasts by way of special antennas

Of course, now we do that with cable, which is about 57 channels of American TV plus the CBC. And we love it. Secretly.

What you say about the professional students in Japan is interesting. When I was there, four years ago, I was a 25-year-old part-time undergraduate taking a break (I ultimately graduated after 7 years and am now beginning another 6, which I like to think earns me the "professional" prefix). Some people seemed to find that a little shocking, my fiancé's father among them. I won him over in the end, but I got the distinct impression that young men are expected to start university at 18 and graduate no older than 22, then immediately don the suit and start a career. A sign of the times or did I misunderstand?

I'm cringing as I write these things about my personal life, because I know what stereotype it might paint me as - especially in the context of a WaiWai discussion - and if I'm not mistaken it's the one that Jun just posted a new entry about. In my defense, I met my wife in Canada and had no particular interest in her nationality at the time. WaiWai came later, in a general effort to keep up with the in-laws via MDN.

Jun Okumura said...

Yes, Eschatron, I did consider the Charisma Man phenomenon (the contemporary version of the Japanese-woman-as-ideal-wife fantasy) and I suppose there are people who come here for that reason (I’m also guessing that urban Japan is a comfortable place for Western gays who do not feel the need for an expressly gay lifestyle); but tourists? Today? No, I decided that any effects thereof were overwhelmed by those of cultural imports (including pro athletes) and their influence on mainstream (North) America. Tokyo may not quite measure up to Paris, but there’s still a good measure of the spirit of the age here that has a hold on the imagination.

To go back to your main point, yes, a typical male Japanese student wants to be hired on graduation at a large, reputable corporation or in the public sector, and his family in particular hopes that he’ll be gainfully employed there for the next thirty years at least. Things have changed somewhat, I think partly because rising overall wealth has made less conventional choices more viable, but partly because there’s less room at the top, which makes risk-taking more attractive. But I haven’t done enough thinking to make up my mind on this point. In any case, there hasn’t been a sea change yet.

Janne Morén said...

Ahh, if only "charisma man" had any basis in reality! Or perhaps brain research just doesn't carry the same halo of exotic glamour as English tutoring.

Michael Reimer said...

Oh? I found it did have some basis in reality. Of course the comics are exaggerated but they rang true to me as a caricature.

Actually, "brain research" is a reasonably accurate description of what I'm doing now. I always thought it would have more cachet, but I'll see what happens next time I visit my in-laws....

Michael Reimer said...

I should say, "Michael Reimer" = "eschatron", after getting around to filling in a bit of a profile here.

Jun Okumura said...

“Wanna see my digs, Japanese girl? I’ll show you my… brain research!” Yeah, great pickup line. I’ve heard it works every time.

Seriously, look at Michael. And Janne, if your flickr cache is any indication, it worked for you too, so stop complaining.

Christopher said...

I think the Japanese reaction to Waiwai has a lot of similarity to the reaction to the Danish Mohammed cartoons. In both cases it's about respect - "those people are making fun of us!"

It took me a long time to understand this attitude, especially when I saw it in Japan. For a lot of people like me (29 year old American), Japan is a first world country and has been for our entire life. Some years back I decided to leave the United States and go to live in Japan (after a short time there I took a detour and am now in Cambodia, but I'll be back in Japan before long). When I told my father this, he had what I thought was very strange reaction. He is now 60 years old and his impression of Japan is taken from what Japan was, just after WWII - it's not much different from his impression of e.g. Thailand or China. He felt like I was leaving the civilized world. By contrast most Americans my age see Japan as the place where they make good cars, fun video games, and cartoons that people over the age of 12 can enjoy - a place just as civilized as, even as cool as, for example California.

So for me, Japan is basically a country not too different from the United States. Now that I have been living in Southeast Asia for the past year I would say that although there are some (mostly superficial, and fading) cultural similarities between other east Asian countries and Japan, Japan is much more like the United States even in a cultural sense. But it's easy for a lot of us to forget (or even not realize to begin with) that not so long ago Japan was not a rich country. The progress that Japan made between WWII and 1990 is really astonishing.

Anyway I am living in Cambodia now and people here are acutely aware that they don't measure up compared to white people. We westerners have lots of money and can travel around spending in a day what most Cambodians might not see in a month. Virtually everyone in the west gets 12 years of quality education, adequate medical care, paved roads, a car, etc.

One of the manifestations of this is that there are English schools all over the place - everyone wants to learn English, because it is seen as not only a guarantee to a good job, but also because it's the key to learning about how to make Cambodia more like a western country - worthy of more respect.

One of the surprising things I have found is that when talking to English teachers here, many of them are aware of Booker Washington, and sort of see themselves in a similar role - bringing their people up to greater heights via education. In some sense this is true, but perhaps a better role model would be Fukuzawa.

Anyway, bringing this back to Japan, there are a lot of Japanese people with the same inferiority complex. You can see this with, among other things, the ubiquitous eikaiwa businesses, the attempt to get on the UN security council, and the way they play up their G8 membership. I think this inferiority complex is now mostly unjustified, but it might take a few generations to grow out of it.

(The way some Japanese girls want a white boyfriend - that's just like American girls who want a European boyfriend, and sadly neither Japan nor America will ever grow out of that.)

And bringing it back to people like me: there are a lot of Americans my age who spend way too much time on the Internet, and a lot of them have been reading Waiwai and a lot of them thought those stories really described Japan, and not just the Japanese equivalent of America's supermarket tabloids. Let's face it: if those stories were advertised as "from Japan's supermarket tabloids!" the audience would be significantly smaller. So I think the end of Waiwai is sort of a good thing, but Japan's reputation was not really at risk.

alex said...

Ryan Connell did not just translate Japanese tabuloids. He made obscene stories up himself. Sex, derogatoriness, vulgarness. It is easy to catch people's eyes with these profane words. As a employee, who has been legally hired with a contract, he should be ashamed of himself for irresponsibility, incompetence, and with no conscience. This world is not one-way street. It is built upon trust and responsibility of each one of us.

Jun Okumura said...

Christopher, I think that the “those people are laughing at me” phenomenon is transient, though it will persist if the underlying conditions prevail. At some point, we’ll grow out of it, as so much of the Hellenic/Judeo-Christian world have already done. The rule of thumb is: .You can laugh about me, as long as you can’t laugh at me. Note that black comedians can tell any kind of jokes about white people, but that it doesn’t work the other way around.

To introduce the other side of the more specific issue that you talk about, we Japanese supposed to have a thing for patsukin—Japanese guys are not an exception to this hankering for something different. My guess is that there must be good reasons evolution-wise for this, keeping the gene pool healthy, or something like that.

I encountered a more benevolent example of this attraction to the Other, on a business trip in Stockholm in the early 90s. I had some time on my hands, so I took a few long walks in the city, where I saw several late middle-aged couples, each in the company of a young Asian girl. A Swede explained to me that the girls were Koreans born out of wedlock—I think this served as a commentary on Korean society at the time. He went on to explain that the blonde, pale-skinned Swedes found the lustrous, black hair of the Asian attractive.

I find your story about Cambodia fascinating. (Out of all possible role models, someone told them about Booker T. Washington; amazing. There’s a book here waiting to be written.) It rings a bell.

I have a little more to say on your last point, which I hope will be relevant to alex’s comment as well, but I think that I’ll put it in the form of an independent post.

In the meantime, alex, yes, I understand that he did jazz up some of the articles. But I haven’t seen anyone claim that he made any of his summaries from whole cloth.

Asada Tetsuya said...

Jun, I think "Alex's" comment relates a lot to your previous entry on blogging and the use of pseudonyms. I've browsed a number of Japanese sites "reacting" to the Waiwai incident and they all seem to follow a pattern; in that they all attack Ryan Connell personally and are all done anonymously. It kind of seems like people are trying to make themselves into "seken no me." They latch onto the person who's standing out and use any and all means to shame him. They dont react to arguments of the opposite side and, at least from the sampling of Ive seen, arent interested in a discussion of any sort.

I dont know how this seems to Japanese eyes, but I wonder how these people can think they can be effective to a Western audience. Is there really such a divide in looking down on ad-hominem attacks and singing posts? Posting anonymously and trying to pass one's self off as an English speaker in particular, I just dont understand why someone would do that.

Clearly Im not innocent of this myself. Id sign this post, but I dont want 2channelers coming over to my blogs and trying to 'seken no me' me into submission too. So it goes, I suppose, for anyone who wants to disagree with 2chan-type people and not wind up like Debito.

Michael Reimer said...

Posting anonymously and trying to pass one's self off as an English speaker in particular

While speaking of trust and responsibility, no less....

Jun Okumura said...

Michael: “Alex”’s English is good enough for him to be aware that he can’t quite “pass”. He would not be the first Japanese moving in English-language circles to use an Anglo (but never a hispanic, or black) name. On the other hand, he wouldn’t do himself much good by signing off as Ichiro, or Taro, either.

As for the anonymous attacks on Ryan Connell, I'd like to see them, though not so much that I'll go digging around. I only went through the 2 Channel forum, which is anonymous almost by definition. In fact, I wonder if 2 Channel, by way of its enormous popularity, set the default position on the Internet culture here; much as Windows, with all its reported flaws and deficiencies, became the standard IT platform. As for not being interested in the arguments from the other side, I see much the same thing elsewhere when hot button issues come up.

I don’t know what has happened to Arudo Debito on this issue, since I haven’t looked at his blog recently. I do know that he has weighed in. Given his flamboyant tactics and semi-celebrity status, I suppose he’s had to put up with a horde of attacks. I’m preparing a post where I say that I have no problems with Tokyo Confidential, over at Japan Times, so maybe I’ll find out for myself. (But read on.)

For the benefit of people who unlike Tetsuya (I wonder if I know you, Tetsuya) are very recent arrivals to this blog, he’s referring to this post. Let me add a few points: I’ve chosen not to take up certain subjects, but I do not write about them anonymously either. I have been all over the place on some hot button issues, but too few people read this blog, I fear, for there has only been the occasional derogatory comment. Hmm, maybe I should jazz it up… Maybe I’ll start singing a different tune when the annoynymice launch a mass attack. Finally, I take a somewhat shamanistic view of names: Even the most fleeting of pseudonyms gives its user an identity that can be attacked.

alex said...

Mr.Okumura, I have been reading your articles here and there since last year. For my brief profile: I am not Japanese, but I was born in Japan and speak fluent Japanese. I am a female graduate student.

I am not regret the comment I made previously, though I feel sorry that my anonymous comment brought discomfort to some people. I found this WaiWai Incident while I was checking Japanese news during study breaks. My point is very simple (it might be too simple). Even though the system management of Mainichi Newspaper should be blamed of this incident for a lot of aspects, at the bottom of the problem it is the responsibility of Mr.Connell, who actually was there as a chief editor. Let's say I were a chief editor of "The Washington Post" (this is a fictitous setting, besides I am sure Mr.Connell is able to speak Japanese much better than I speak English). I would never write journals fabricating or unnecessarily exaggerating the stories from tabloids under the name of "The Washington Post". Mainichi Newspaper is not a gossip magazine; it is one of the top three newspaper companies in Japan. When I take a job, I will give my best effort. No matter how many excuses Mr.Connell has right now, it is the fact that he failed to show trust and responsibility to the company, the world, and especially himself.

Jun Okumura said...


Just in case there’s any misunderstanding, you and I are mostly in agreement. My comment was intended to tell readers that I did not think you were trying to pass. The only beef I have with your original comment concerns your assertion that Mr. Connell “made obscene stories up himself.” It’s one thing to exaggerate—bad, especially for an editor—but I can understand something like that happening over time, without adult supervision (which is why MDN had to apologize so profusely). But it’s something else to make up an article in its entirety, like Jason Blair. The former merits a timeout; the latter disqualifies the perpetrator as a journalist, so it’s not an accusation that should be made lightly.

Your have a good grasp of the rhythm and structure of the Indo-European language family, so if you’ve grown up in Japan, you can’t be Japanese or Korean. You drop indefinite articles, and have problems with the auxiliary verb “be”. My guess is that you are an ethnic Chinese. Taiwanese?

Whatever. Take a look at this, if you haven’t already.

Michael Reimer said...

Sorry if I attacked you unfairly, then, Alex. It seemed like a natural conclusion under the circumstances but maybe wrong nonetheless.

alex said...

Mr.Okamura, thank you very much for the link. This is actually my first time to write on a public wall in English, so I apologize if I have been using inappropriate words or attitude here. Since I first visited your blog, I have been thinking that your career is fascinating and your articles are very thoughtful. Please note that I never meant to attack you or anyone by my previous comment; it was my expression simply how I felt about Mr.Connell.

You are almost right about my ethnicity. I have mixed blood of Greece, Russia, America, China and Korea. I know I am not Japanese, but I really love the country I was born. Japan is a beautiful country with great hospitality. It is my forever homeland. I usually do not write a comment in public, but this time, I could not hold my upset feeling over someone who has been besmirching Japanese reputation for 9 years.

Mr.Okamura, I wish you the best upon all of your works. I will not write a comment until I can write perfect English like everyone else here, but I will sometimes visit your blog to read your profound insight about the world-wide news.

Michael Reimer said...

I will not write a comment until I can write perfect English like everyone else here

Alex, I've met many native English speakers who can't write as well as you in English. This is not oseji or any such thing. My misunderstanding wasn't your fault. So I hope you'll reconsider that.

Jun Okumura said...

I strongly second Mark’s last comment, Alex. The only important things in my view are acknowledging any factual or judgmental errors, and apologizing when the situation warrants, like Michael has done. The last one is sometimes the hardest part. I only focused on your English because of the point that Michael raised. And your English is very, very good, just non-native. Incidentally, the difference in sentence structure appears to be one of the biggest obstacles—if not the biggest—to mastering Indo-European languages for Japanese (and Koreans, I’m sure) to master, and the other way around, I assume. You can see the importance of language structure when you hear Mongolians who have become sumo wrestlers in Japan speak flawless Japanese when they are interviewed. Okay, a one, two-minute interview is not exactly a talkfest, but it’s still impressive when you consider that these people came to Japan when they were already teenagers at the youngest.

By the way, it’s Okumura, not Okamura. English-language speakers make that mistake so often, I would be sure that there must be a phonetic reason for this, if people did not also address me as Okuyama—less often but still not uncommonly. The second one is particularly mystifying because I think there are Okumuras than Okuyama.

Michael Reimer said...

For that matter, Jun, I was reading it in my head as Okamura until you mentioned this. You must be right about the phonetic bias.

Similarly, Japanese people often shorten my name to Mark instead of Mike. Ok, world-traveller that you are, I'm sure it's just a typo or thinko.

BTW, my latest blog entry may be a little more to your taste. (Yeah I'm selling.)

Jun Okumura said...

I think I’ve got part of it, Michael. Native English speakers almost invariably pronounce my name ō-kə-MŪ-rə. I think that their minds tend to differentiate the sound and therefore the written form of those “ə”s from those of the “oh” and “uu” right next to them. No, I won’t try to guess why you don’t visualize them as “e”s or “i”s. But a student of phonetics should be able to explain that. Add to that the fact that the spelling of my name is difficult to remember for native-English speakers for the simple fact that it’s not a traditional Anglo name, and people end up visualizing my name as Okamura, long after they’ve seen it on my business card, or elsewhere.

I’ll bite.

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