Trolls or media watchdogs?: Japan’s foreign-born defenders

Is the vicious online war against 'BS' biased reporting stifling journalism?


Have the foreign media got it in for Japan? Do they unduly focus on, and sensationalize, Fukushima radiation leaks, alleged racial intolerance and the self-aggrandizing policy pronouncements of the reborn Liberal Democratic Party? Worse still, are non-Japanese journalists prejudicing perceptions of Japan in the wider world, further eroding the nation’s global significance?

Though right-wing Japanese apologists have long identified, in the words of Michael Cucek, research associate with the MIT Center for International Studies, “the existence of an international cabal of anti-Japanese media types,” some ardent foreign-born Japan residents are also defending their adopted home from “Japan-hating” media.

Since the tragedy of March 2011, when the controversy over the Japanese government’s response to the Fukushima nuclear crisis gave journalists grist to ramp up their alleged anti-Japanese prejudice, the pro-Japaners have employed an effective counter-attack strategy: Banded behind a small but deafening band of bloggers, YouTubers and citizen journalists of sorts, this informal alliance generate legion online comments, blog posts and video channel chat-fests that systematically seek to discredit media they say are bent on fear-mongering about the country. In this highly polarized and fractious world, you are either with Japan or against it.

The subheading on the blog Japologism.com neatly sums up the aims of these foreign-born neo-apologists: “Unapologetic apologism — Some of us quite like living here, you know!” Established by Scotsman Ken Yasumoto-Nicolson, Japologism is a direct successor of the defunct Tepido.org, a single-issue forum for rebutting the alleged Japan-hating bias of academic, blogger and Japan Times columnist Debito Arudou.

Post-3/11, the cause celebre for these Japan defenders has been an article titled “Gaijin Gulag,” excerpts of which were published on The Economist magazine’s website in January 2012, detailing the case of Christopher Johnson, a Japan-based Canadian journalist who says he was unfairly held in detention in the bowels of Narita airport before being deported from Japan.

The relative merits of the case are complex, and beyond the purview of this article. But the fact that this damning account of Japanese immigration procedure was covered in such an internationally significant publication seems to have fired up the pro-Japan lobby to respond on an unprecedented scale. Over 700 comments, most strongly attacking aspects of Johnson’s story, were posted in the days before The Economist called time on the forum, while Johnson was endlessly taken to task on numerous blogs and YouTube channels.

The Economist only published portions of Johnson’s own blog post that described the circumstances of his deportation, with the newsmagazine calling it a “rambling” account. The publication claimed that it fact-checked Johnson’s story as much as possible, but said they could not endorse it and that it was unverified. The Economist’s stated aim was to view Johnson’s story, however much it can be believed, in the context of claims of long-running abuses by Japanese immigration authorities that have sparked hunger strikes, suicides and led to the death in custody of a Ghanaian man — the latter occurring “during a rough deportation in 2010,” wrote The Economist.

In this context, the level of invective directed toward Johnson might have seemed surprising. Many thousands of words came from just one poster, VKay, a typically anonymous pro-Japan voice who comments on various Japan-related blogs and forums. Inevitably, things got personal.

“Despite the protests in comments below this one (possibly by Mr Johnson himself or one of his friends; a week or so ago a similar thing happened), he is not a major league journalist — he’s a blogger who strings for a minor cult-funded paper in the U.S.,” wrote VKay, apparently referring to The Washington Times. “His story from the beginning was suspect, and even before the Economist took it up, was being shredded.”

Johnson, a reporter with a diverse publishing history (The New York Times, CNN.com, The Japan Times) across more than two decades, much of that spent in Japan, has been highly outspoken about attacks on his journalistic credentials since his Gaijin Gulag story surfaced. The result has been a toxic online war, with blogs such as Japologism and Japan Probe sometimes publishing hundreds of ad hominem comments a week about the reporter.

The Canadian, who says he had never heard of these blogs before the Gaijin Gulag episode, says that he has been defamed to the point where former employers are increasingly reticent to work with him. Whatever the veracity of this claim, Johnson is only one of numerous writers and journalists who have come under sustained and vehement criticism on blogs, Twitter or comment forums for their alleged anti-Japanese stance. These include New York Times journalists Martin Fackler and Hiroko Tabuchi, former Tokyo CNN correspondent Kyung Lah, and bloggers Debito Arudou and Rick Gundlach, among others.

In ways, these foreign-born cyber-warriors parallel the infamous netouyo (“Internet right”) — nationalistic Net trolls who hunt Japan’s critics online. When Miki Dezaki, an American teacher of Japanese parentage based in Okinawa, decided to teach his students about racism in Japan, and included alleged examples of the practice — in particular, Japan’s racial stereotyping of Koreans —in a YouTube video posted in February, he was attacked online with such vicious regularity (including death threats) that once-supportive school officials asked him to take down the video. Dezaki refused on the grounds of free speech, and he has since left his job.

But the main players among the foreign-born Japan apologists project a less doctrinaire line. Though many anonymous commenters-cum-trolls write vociferous and borderline-defamatory comments on the pro-Japan blogs, the faces of the movement — when they deign to reveal themselves — appear more neutral and reasonable. They are mostly white middle-aged men who have lived a long time in Japan, speak the language fluently, claim to understand the culture and, by implication, believe they are well-qualified to express credible views about their adopted home.

Hikosaemon, a blogger, YouTuber and regular commenter on Japan-related online forums, is a New Zealander who has lived in Japan since 1998. Commenting on a LinkedIn forum in May 2012 that reposted a Debito Arudou article from The Japan Times detailing so-called “microaggressions” against foreigners in Japan — crudely put, conscious or unconscious actions by Japanese that “put foreigners in their place” — Hikosaemon articulated the pro-Japan rationale.

“What aggravates me is that there are so few voices counterbalancing such out of whack views, and when they are out there, they are often dismissed and attacked by the believers in the criticism of somehow being apologists in with some sort of massive Japanese conspiracy, simply for calling BS on BS,” he wrote.

Though Japologism — a blog that Hikosaemon helped inspire, according to its founder — is a self-proclaimed apologist site, this is a common pro-Japan rationale: Hikosaemon and his fellow travelers are a reasonable minority who simply feel it is their duty to expose the many “out of whack” perspectives on Japan.

The pro-Japan blog Japan Probe, which Hikosaemon comments on, presents a similar rationale in its About section. “Idiots, bigots, fearmongers, and liars” (i.e. Japan-haters) will not have their comments aired. Neither, they say, is the blog the work of a conspiratorial cabal. “We are not on the payroll of any political organizations, nor do we have some secret political agenda,” runs the site’s disclaimer.

This band of non-native Japan apologists often stress that they are not mouthpieces of the Japanese right. They are, instead, simply a spontaneous, informal thread of independent voices. Eido Inoue, a U.S.-born naturalized Japanese citizen formerly known as Adrian Havill, writes on numerous pro-Japan blogs and forums. Though Inoue declined to comment when approached by The Japan Times for this article, he did respond to the question of why some foreign-born Japan residents are so quick to call out media negativity on Japan.

“I certainly don’t consider myself to be a media watchdog,” he said in an email. “My opinions are not formally published anywhere except for a few minor indie blogs which are not read by many people.” Inoue wrote that he was simply a “private individual” and “yet another resident of Japan with an opinion on the media and [who] makes comments on news stories”.

Nevertheless, some contend that pro-Japan blogs such as Japan Probe and Japologism, which Inoue posts on, push a highly circumscribed agenda. @Kamo, commenting on the more critical Japan blog Hoofin (run by former Japan resident and U.S. national Rick Gundlach), said in February he “gave up” on Japan Probe a couple of years ago, even if it “did a creditable job countering the hysteria in the overseas press immediately after the Tohoku disaster.” Ever since, however, “they’ve not let up on the rabidly pro-Japan propaganda.” @Kamo quoted another foreign blogger in Japan, Our Man in Abiko, real name Patrick Sherriff, who called Japan Probe “the self-appointed lapdog of the Japanese establishment.”

This is possibly just tit-for-tat brouhaha. But reasonable “soft” apologists such as Hikosaemon often seem careful to avoid any interaction with the Japan-related online forums more often associated with trolls and unilateral agendas. Hikosaemon does, however, reference Japan Probe as a legitimate news source in his “2.5 Oyajis” YouTube show.

In an episode from May 2012, Japan Probe was praised for calling out Aruduo’s “hate” thesis about Japanese microaggressions. But @Saitoko7, who “liked the video” otherwise, was not impressed, saying of Japan Probe: “It’s a mean-spirited gossip blog meant to stir up hatred, and the majority of its regular commenters seem to be embittered trolls who have lived in Japan for far too long.”

In the comments, Hikosaemon replied to @Saitoko7 with equanimity. “I tend to avoid comment forums on most Japan-related sites for that reason (feel free to comment here, the water’s fine :) ).” He continued: “Most comment sites I agree are overwhelmed with trolls, be they from the Japan hater camp, or the *apologist* camp. . . . I don’t read the comments on JapanProbe, and seldom post there. I like the blog.”

A few comments on, and Hikosaemon, who associates trolls firstly with the “Japan-hater camp,” admitted that he not only liked but respected the site: “What I respect about Japan Probe is the role the editors take of showing Japan news and goings on as I see it through local media (as most who live life in Japanese here experience it I think), and their willingness to call BS when substandard reporting or writing about japan is found.”

‘BS’ is a term often employed in these pro-Japan forums as the truest marker of Japan-related media bias and negativity. Such “bulls—t” may simply result from substandard journalism; more often, however, it is compounded by a kind of gaijin cultural dissonance.

When Japan Probe posted news that Kyung Lah was leaving the Tokyo CNN bureau in 2012, it slammed her “crude, misinformed, trashy and stupid” reporting. But the nub of the problem, as expressed by numerous commenters on the post, was a lack of intimacy with Japanese language and culture. As @level 3 put it, Lah was “just some sort of cushy exile in the well-paid Tokyo-based gaijin English bubble until whatever heat blew over from her personal life.” Lah’s negative and sensationalist “tone and topic selection” were reflective of a bias born of her failure to integrate on one hand, and her personal issues/crises on the other, the commenters sniped.

Such critiques of foreign journalists echo the old charge, made most emphatically by American neoconservatives, of so-called “liberal media bias.” Conservative think tanks typically publish research showing how mass media organizations and journalists have especially left-of-center biases, meaning right-wing opinions are distorted or not heard. “Sometimes liberal bias reflects a conscious choice by the reporter or editor,” observes the conservative Media Research Center’s Brett Baker. “Sometimes it stems from mere laziness.”

For the neo-apologists, the argument is similar: Journalistic laziness combined with “conscious choices” born of personal prejudice are coloring foreign news coverage of Japan. The strategic imperative is again to pigeonhole the media, marking some — usually more Japan-positive — voices as reasonable, in stark contrast to the “out of whack” negative sources, be they individuals or news organizations.

However, one caveat that accusers of media bias have to bear in mind is the fundamental responsibility of the media to scrutinize and critique the policies of incumbent governments and other vested interests. A study by media watchdogs 4thEstate, released in August 2012, found that across three months of the last U.S. presidential election campaign, President Barack Obama received significantly more negative comments across all news media than Republican rival Mitt Romney — even in so-called Democrat-friendly outlets such as The New York Times, Boston Globe, Washington Post and CNN.

The Times, Post and CNN are often singled out for their negative coverage of Japan, though these news organizations have a consistent record of highly critical domestic and international coverage. Judging which side of the line between fiercely objective public-interest reportage and aggressive agenda-driven muck-raking a story lies on can be a difficult — and subjective — call. Claims of bias need therefore to be backed by rigorous research, say experts. “Media bias is certainly the perception, but it’s based on a lot of anecdotal evidence and people talking about ‘What I think,’ ” said Michael Howe, chief technology officer for 4th Estate.

The neo-apologist campaign against bias is most often based on such anecdotal and subjective analysis of single news stories. This may explain why some experts cannot agree with allegations of systemic negativity from underperforming foreign journalists.

“The quality of reporting [on Japan] in the foreign languages I regularly read, which are English and French, has never been higher,” Cucek, who runs the popular Shisaku blog, said in an email. Cucek did opine that The New York Times had had “problems” with correspondents in the past — although Tabuchi, he added, was the best in “recent memory.”

By contrast, deep concerns about “BS” foreign reporting on Japan have driven some observers to embark on a kind of crusade. Inoue, for example, who on one hand rejects the idea that he is a media watchdog, once paradoxically expressed his “hope to force the overseas media to do their job better.” Writing in 2011 on the now-expired Tepido.org, Inoue expressed an arguably legitimate concern that foreign bureaus often employed journalists who were not fluent or near-native Japanese speakers, could not engage in proper investigative reporting because they relied on inadequate English-in-Japan source material, and failed to develop “powerful Japanese connections (political and business), instead preferring to hang out in the ‘gaijin ghettos’ and wait for the Japanese with an angle come to them.”

But worst of all, perhaps, so-called Japan-hating sites such as Debito.org were used as an information source by foreign media after 3/11, Inoue claimed. To “fix” this wider problem of a “chain of distortions” tainting foreign reporting on Japan, Inoue hoped that “by discrediting (or, dare I dream, IMPROVE) the blogs and English-in-Japan sources that the international press uses too often as primary sources, I hope to force the overseas media to do their job better.”

The extent to which foreign media in Japan rely on English-in-Japan sources is unclear. Writing in 2010 in East Asia Forum, Cucek argued that undermanned foreign bureaus were regurgitating anti-government Japanese-language media — not the English-in-Japan media that so concerned Inoue. “With most non-Japanese media organizations cutting staff or leaving Japan entirely, the world is relying more and more on unfiltered retransmission of what Japanese media outlets are producing,” Cucek wrote. This resulted in “the broad dissemination of reporting which is potentially more harsh and negative than the on-the-ground reality would require.” The increasingly pro-LDP line of papers like the Mainichi, which also have English online editions, exacerbated anti-DPJ coverage in foreign media, according to Cucek, during the Democratic Party of Japan’s tumultuous term in power.

This vernacular source of media negativity does not feature in the neo-apologist narrative. Since 3/11, the Japan defenders have held the line that the prejudices of fly-by-night gaijin reporters underlined sensationalized and inaccurate media coverage of the Fukushima crisis. When Japan Probe called out a New York Times story for adding “extra fear and distrust” about a planned evacuation from the Fukushima area, the commenter @FullFrontal asked: “Kyung Lah, Tabuchi Hiroko, and Norimitsu Onishi. . . . Why do American media have to send to Japan journalists who have a deep-rooted hatred toward Japan?” In the instance of former NYT reporter Onishi, some pro-Japan voices have even claimed that his alleged anti-Japanese agenda was linked, in part, to his (completely unsubstantiated) ethnic Korean ancestry.

The view that the neo-apologists rely on anonymous “embittered trolls” to bully journalists online misses the sophistication of a multi-faceted campaign, however informal. YouTube shows and sundry blogs also expose netizens to the pro-Japan narrative via predominantly light-hearted entertainment. On YouTube channels such as 2.5 Oyajis, the expat presenters wear funny hats and discuss human interest curiosities in Japan. The very reasonable, informative and casual online tete-a-tetes seem designed to offer an insider view of Japan to a global audience — the 2.5 Oyajis even discuss things they sometimes hate about Japan, like old ladies who shove in to get seats on crowded trains.

Very often, however, the presenters segue into more pointed discussion on media negativity about Japan. In the “Are Sex Slaves Ever REALLY Necessary?” episode from May 15, the negative publicity generated by Osaka Gov. Toru Hashimoto’s “comfort women” gaffe was put in deeper historical context, with particular emphasis on past measures by Japan to draw a line under the issue. The conversation later turns to doctored photos purportedly from the Nanjing Massacre, after co-presenter Gimmeaflakeman, an American, refers to a story in Japan Probe about a new inquiry “supporting the Japanese argument . . . that maybe a lot of that stuff was made up.”

The 2.5 Oyajis, who speak excellent Japanese and often proclaim their love for their Far Eastern home, may not necessarily agree with the “Japanese argument” in every case, but they certainly appear to want to refocus such debates to counter foreign media negativity. In the episode “Gaijins that piss us off,” the presenters single out media types who live in Roppongi, hang out in gaijin bars speaking English and act “like they know everything, when really they don’t know shit,” in Hikosaemon’s words. Worse of all, he added, “these types then go into the mass media or go back abroad, and these guys who know nothing are showing off while spreading misinformation.”

Such claims of misinformation are never related to understaffed foreign bureaus, or inherent media skepticism toward the powers that be — or, as Tokyo-based writer Jake Adelstein noted in the aftermath of 3/11, the exclusion of foreign media from Japanese-only press clubs. In the pro-Japan narrative, negativity is personal; it is the remit of, in Hikosaemon’s words, “con artists” who hate Japan.

When “alarmist” foreign media “fear-monger” about wartime sex slaves, contentious visits to Yasukuni Shrine by Japanese government ministers or Fukushima radiation leaks, the neo-apologists can, in an echo of the liberal media bias debate, simply write off such reporting as being irredeemably poisoned by personal prejudice. As in the U.S., nuance and complexity become the victims in a highly polarized discourse over media bias.

Japan’s foreign-born defenders and detractors appear committed to an often toxic online war that might be headed for the courts (ongoing claims and counter-claims of personal threats and defamation are beyond the scope of this article). But will this seemingly exceptional war of semantics — there appears to be little evidence of similarly vicious online debates in other expat communities — potentially create more negativity about Japan than the so-called negative media coverage itself? Are foreign bureaus in Japan actually spooked, and has open debate been stifled? (A number of journalists approached for this article did not want to comment.)

Or, with Japan currently receiving subdued international attention more than two years after the Tohoku disaster, will the war of words inevitably die out? Is a detente even possible?

Ironically, most non-native Japanese who write about their adopted home, even those who often critique it, seem to want the same thing: namely, to better understand the country they have chosen to live in and its place in the wider world.

Stuart Braun is a former Tokyo-based freelance journalist now based in Berlin. Send comments on these issues and story ideas to community@japantimes.co.jp.

  • I don’t know if “the foreign media [has] it in for Japan.” But they certainly put more focus (sensationalized or not) on Fukushima and its fallout than the timid Japanese media does. Somebody has to because government and media in Japan tend to walk the same line (with some exceptions). As for “racial intolerance,” there is no doubt it exists and, once again, sources inside Japan rarely (if ever) address it. If you’re not happy with the alternative, speak up. Japan is doing a pretty good job eroding it’s own global significance. Change in all these matters must come from within.

    • Realistic

      Open your eyes man, the foreign media does have it in for Japan. It’s quite obvious.

      • 151E

        Certainly, a lot of foreign reporting on Japan is of the patronizing isn’t Japan weird variety (eg the bizarre coverage of the supposed ‘bagel head’ fad), but I’m not convinced the foreign media “has it in for Japan” as you claim. The author of this article reiterated an important point that it is the fundamental responsibility of the fourth estate to scrutinize and critique the policies of government and other vested interests. Such scrutiny and criticism is an essential to healthy democratic discourse, and not indicative of bias.

      • Realistic

        Nah, you’re wrong. It’s bias, plain and simple.

    • Harry P

      Joe, the Fukushima is just one thing, but these foreign media outlets are usually critical of anything Japan, pre- and post-3/11. That’s the problem. Japan-bashing has been a problem w/ these news outlets especially CNN and New York Times for decades.

    • jmanngod

      I can see Joe that the pro-Japan, “nothing to see here” brigade have already stepped in to rate your response poorly. This is now sadly common on many sites. One has to wonder how many are the same person (troll) logging in several times to attack views they dislike.

      I suspect that the apologists, trolls, haters, right-wingers are desperately scared that the internet has allowed the world to see a side of Japan that has long been hidden by the sycophantic, denial-ridden, extremist, mainstream Japanese media.

      Japan media (i.e the Right) has such a victim mentality – and it is so completely at odds with a general populace that appear, by in large, gentle and resourceful – if a little naive of the outside world.

      • Masa Chekov

        I’m curious if you actually read Japanese media, bloggers and such? Because I have seen very little in Japanese media that would be described as “extremist”. That seems to be a plague that has hit English-language media hard but not so much in Japan. Timid, perhaps, but hardly extremist.

      • jmanngod

        yes, I’m a fluent reader/speaker of Japanese. There is plenty of extremist ‘news’ in Japan. I’m no longer resident though and don’t read anywhere as much as I used to.

      • Masa Chekov

        As you know, then, there’s a wide spectrum of news available. Of course there is extreme mixed in with the mild. But being an English speaker you are also aware that there is far less of the extreme mixed in with the mild than there is in say the US or UK.

      • jmanngod

        well I can’t speak for the US, having not lived there, and the 5 or so years I spent in the UK I didn’t really bother to read any of the “extremist” material… I have a pretty strong ‘BS’ radar.

      • Gordon Graham

        According to Mr.Braun it’s the foreign journalist who are afraid of the Internet.

      • Realistic

        Haha what a silly assumption. Tell me jmanngod, why are you reading about Japan when you obviously don’t care about the country, hmm?

      • jmanngod

        why did you bother to reply to me when you have nothing of interest to say?

  • Realistic

    Stuart, you forgot to add LATimes, WSJ (Japan Real Time is one of the worst), and ironically Japan Times (pretty much anything by Philip Brasor, Debito, and a majority of commenters here like Spudator, Ron NJ, Mark Garrett, etc) to the Japan-bashing list as well. CNN and New York Times are the worst by far, I avoid those sites like the plague even before 3/11. So glad Lah is gone, yuck.

    • Ron NJ

      If by “Japan bashing” you mean “stating the truth and being critical, for better or worse”, then yes.

      • Mark Garrett

        Yep, me too. BTW, thanks for the recognition “Realistic” or whatever your name is. I will always state my opinions and am not afraid to own them either, which is more than I can say for the vast majority of apologists. There’s a lot to love about Japan but most of it isn’t really newsworthy (i.e., another month goes by with zero crime in my neighborhood). The term “Japan bashing” is so inaccurate anyways. I’ve read or heard VERY little bad mouthing of the country itself. The government, yes. The profits first, safety somewhere down the line companies, most definitely.

    • Hitokiri 1989

      You forgot the self-hating Asahi Shimbun =p

  • FightBack

    Thank-you Stuart Braun for shining a light on the vicious and underhanded tactics of these apologists. What they have done to Debito’s reputation and life works is nothing short of blasphemy. Christopher Johnson has been smeared relentlessly and all the while people like Donald Keene are lording it up with their Japanese ‘pals’. Critical thinking and a mature media are nowhere to be found in Japan domestically, it takes a careful and watchful eye to provide the Gaitsu (outside pressure) that can keep Japan from sliding back into terrible human rights abuses.

    Apologists must be rooted out, named and shamed. This can not be allowed to continue in a modern and open world.

    • phu

      Yes! Name them, shame them, THEY DISAGREE WITH ME! Come on, grow up. Being too far at either end of the spectrum (which you clearly are, and which “apologists” likely are as well, though I’d wonder about your idea of that word’s meaning) makes you detrimental to the discussion.

      Note that I didn’t say you should be named or shamed (you’re clearly not interested in sharing your name, so that’s a little hypocritical based on your ‘suggestion’). You have your opinion, and that’s fine. But suggesting others should be tracked down and harassed based on your opinion leads in a very bad direction in terms of basic freedoms.

    • Gordon Graham

      Bit of a cowardly sentiment for someone who doesn’t put their own name behind their opinion

  • Ken Yasumoto-Nicolson

    Good grief, what a load on nonsense! I’ll note (for now) that the writer of this article, despite making me the lead character, never approached me for comment, and it would appear from the article that apart from Mr Inoue, neither were any of the other “neo-apologists”.

    • Adam

      I’m glad you piped in Ken, maybe you can clarify something. Are you the big guy with all the cash or the small green thing sitting on the other guy’s shoulder? …it’s hard to see from your teddy bear avatar.

  • Guest

    Considering the majority of the domestic media steadfastly refuses to be critical or do much investigative reporting, it naturally falls on the foreign elements, whatever those may be, to step in and take up the cause. Hopefully one day Japan’s media outlets can stop accepting such “foreign aid” and stand on their own as more than just mouthpieces of the manufactured narrative.

  • Ron NJ

    Japan, just like any other country, has both detractors and supporters, and people must accept that there will be those who are critical of any government or system. Japan is not special nor unique, and should be held to the same standards as any other country – if not a higher bar, due to Japan’s aspirations to be a “first world” country, comparable to the European or Western states, despite some quite glaring social, legal, and judicial flaws. Japan does not deserve, nor should it receive, special treatment just because it is Japan, and those who would blindly defend it should recognize this fact.

    • Masa Chekov

      Agreed, except showing the other side of ignorant falsehoods is hardly blindly defending Japan. I’ve never met anyone who blindly defends Japan, not that Japan needs any blindly defending anyway.

      I do find it interesting that you mention Japan’s “quite glaring social, legal, and judicial flaws” – this is the same everywhere, though, isn’t it? Put the magnifying glass on any country you choose and you will see these flaws, inequalities. Japan is no worse than anywhere else for this.

      • Gordon Graham

        He’s giving Japan special treatment…

      • Hitokiri 1989

        The problem is the “pro-Japan” camp doesn’t apply this to other countries. The vitriol against Korea and China by them basically leads one to assume that both countries are filled with people who hate and want to annihilate Japan. Nothing about how “diverse” China and Korea are. So basically Japan is the only country where we cannot form a general opinion because its “diverse” but for the rest of the world its ok.

      • Masa Chekov

        Is there really any vitriol towards Koreans and Chinese by the foreign community in Japan? Maybe a lot of criticism of the actions of the governments in those countries but I don’t think there’s much towards the people there.

      • phu

        “Other places are the same” and “other places are worse” are simply an excuse for ignoring the problems with the place you’re comparing them to (Japan in this case, but it works with anything).

        There is nothing wrong — and in fact a good deal right — with addressing a place’s issues. How else can they possibly be overcome? What’s counterproductive is going to the extremes of “this place is PERFECT” or “this place is TERRIBLE” and throwing around excessive, unwarranted praise or criticism.

        It’s very hard to ignore people who do the latter, but that is the best way to deal with them. Tell people about Japan’s advantages and disadvantages, and let them know it’s a place that’s worth checking out rather than simply prejudging. Let them make their own decisions, and leave the petty squabblers to fight among themselves. They’re going to do it anyway.

      • Masa Chekov

        phu, I agree with you. The reason some react rather strongly to Debito and the commenters on his site is… Well, have you ever been there? It’s an unrelenting stream of negativity, and anything positive said about Japan gets branded as “Apologism!!!” and the writer banned. I know this because that’s exactly what happened to me when I tried to discuss an issue there.

        A lot of people react strongly to foreign media stories about Japan because they usually fit into three modes – “Weird Japan”, “Look at how messed up/backwards Japan is!” and “Japan is angering its neighbors like it’s 1937 again!” No balance, and rarely do you get any picture of Japan that shows this is just a normal place with normal people and normal pros and cons.

        Having a balanced discussion about issues and problems is great, but the BALANCE part is key here.

      • d4rkie

        BALANCE will not bring you clicks and ad impressions >_>

      • tomado

        better than some…worse than others…

    • Christopher-trier

      European “or” Western states? European states are Western.

      • Ron NJ

        Canada, for example, is first world and culturally quite western, yet not particularly European anymore. The same goes for many former colonies, including Australia, New Zealand, America, and so on.

        I used such language so as not to exclude from the comparison nations such as America – to which the Japanese often tend to compare themselves and their country – or any of the various (western) European states which Japan has so often tried to emulate.

      • Christopher-trier

        That was not the point — Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and North America are the “West”. They come from the same civilisation. It’s simply ironic that some would exclude the source of Western civilisation when discussing the West.

      • Guest

        Well, at least now it’s clear that you’re just being obtuse for the sake of being difficult.

      • Christopher-trier

        No, I simply am loath to accept sloppy comments with great degrees of inaccuracy.

      • Guest

        I can’t believe you’re trolling in the comments section of an article about trolls. That’s pretty meta, my hat’s off to you.

      • nanka

        The predicate “Western” comes from cold war language and is not applyable to Europe any more, for meanwhile a lot of “Eastern” (i.e. Warsaw Pact States) are Europe and NATO too. So from the view of Europe “Western” more sounds like “Wild West” wich is associated with rough US-style politices. We don’t think ourselves of Europe as “Western” anymore.

      • Christopher-trier

        Brilliant, you do realise that Trier is a German city and that I am a German national. Unless you do not consider Germany to be part of the European continent you really have no place to tell me what “Europeans” think. I see no issue with referring to Europe as a whole being part of Western civilisation. It’s really not much different than saying India is part of South Asian civilisation or China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam being part of Eastern civilisation. They’re merely academic terms. Try not to get caught up in political jingoism.

      • nanka

        I’m from Germany too. “western” is defenitly cold war talk. You are stick befor 1989, aren’t you? Nobody I know still refers to Europe as “western” as long as you consider Poland etc as part of it..

      • Christopher-trier

        Strangely, I have scarcely heard anyone refer to Europe as being anything but part of the Western World — the Occident, where the sun sets as compared to the Eastern World. What you are thinking of is the “Western Bloc”, which is a Cold War term. The Western world, the West — in English at least — refers to to the civilisation that grew out of Judea, Greece, and Rome.

        A few links for you:





        Considering that I was born in 1985: hint, I don’t remember much from before 1989, and that I have lived on three continents I hardly need to be lectured about having “outdated” ideas. If you have any more questions concerning what the West or Western world comprises please try reading a book.

      • Tinkerjoy

        Japan is not unique in calling the West as one homogenous West.

        The rest of Asia, with a far deeper colonial past, also considers Europe, Australia, America, Canada, New Zealand as “the West”.

        The division runs deep and is encoded into linguistic patterns. “Western” can be regarded as a transliteration.

        If you cannot understand that virtually all of Asia – even India, which is west of Japan per se – considers the West as a oppositional and different civilisation, and can only appreciate that term from Europe’s socio-lingual perspective, then you are a long way from insight into Asia.

  • tammy mathews

    I sort of feel like posting here is only perpetuating the problem. China and Japan face a near identical problem… enviable economy founded in traditional customs that most foreigners (often those they export to) just don’t get. They both also host a language not privy to the sword that is free speech. Thus when English opinion arrives, they simply remain unable to joust effectively. The former’s answer to this is to just lock the door, the latter, who attempts to engage the outside, remains at the mercy of it. I think the illustration says it perfectly, the problem here is there is just too many trolls on one side of the argument.

  • JusenkyoGuide

    There’s this thing called a mirror… Perhaps the author should make use of one? Seriously, this is the exact same thing that he is accusing the pro-Japan side of. What’s sad is that the Japan Times publishes it.

  • Yeah, all this alarmist “Foreign Media r teh evils for misrepresenting glorious 日本” is just paranoid BS.

    Foreign bureaus in Japan are understaffed and lack access to Japanese press clubs even if foreign journalists have good Japanese proficiency. Of course they’d have trouble writing about Japan. Jake Adelstein have been saying this for years now, and yet Japan Probe still blames the foreign media.

    And besides, what can you write about Japan? Other than earthquakes and WWII, Japan is the most boring nation for news. No one cares about AKB48 and Johnny’s idols outside Japan, anime and dorama are not exactly that overseas would read about in newspapers, and Japanese politics is dull except for a few exciting racists like Ishihara and Hashimoto. 21st century Japan is dull and boring compared to the 90’s and thus looking for a good story in Japan for a global audience is like a game of whack-a-mole.

    • Max Erimo

      Congratulations, you got it exactly right.
      Japanese media don’t srutinize politicians police and companies the way they should. There is no news in Japan.
      I watch only BBC and CNN so if there is really any news worth knowing about Japan it will appear there, and probably faster and more accurately than in Japanese media.

    • Masa Chekov

      Any “journalist” who needs access to a press club to write up a story has no business being called a journalist. That’s called “being a tape recorder”.

      • You don’t know how journalism works then.

      • Masa Chekov

        Well, why don’t you explain it to me then if you are Mr Journalism?

      • Okay, sure.

        Press clubs are a good way to gain and exchange contacts and sources and what not.

        Let’s just say that i’m a journalist who got transferred to Japan. I’m fluent in Japanese but i have no one to speak to and thus i have no access to any events and press conferences.

        So where do i go? I go to a press club, where i can find sources and contacts for anything i can get my hands on in Japan.

        But, i want to enter an actual Japanese press club, because if i’m stuck with the Foreign Press Club, then i’ll get nothing but crap by other foreign sources and i want to get REAL actual news in Japan, and i’m unable to because some press clubs just don’t allow foreign journalists like me.

        You get what i mean?

      • Gordon Graham

        I think I follow you…The Foreign Press has nothing to offer but crap.

      • Masa Chekov

        I get what you mean, but it is super easy to get media contacts these days, thanks to twitter and social media. i have absolutely nothing to do with media in my work but even I know a bunch of print/online writers both personally and online. It’s not so hard to do in this day and age.

      • Hitokiri 1989

        Sorry but in Japan information, especially from government departments is disseminated to the press clubs. Isn’t that why there is criticism that such clubs are nothing more than spokespersons for the government and/or corporations?

      • Masa Chekov

        Which is why I made my original “tape recorder” comment. What exactly is the point of just getting the same information handed to you that is handed to everyone else? There’s no journalism in that. So why complain you don’t have access to that system? Why should you need it?

      • @masachekov:disqus Yeah, but social media is not a good platform to gain connections.

        When you meet someone in real life face-to-face, you get to REALLY know the person inside out. And journalists have that as priority.

      • Gordon Graham

        Apparently it’s all about reading blogs and watching Youtube videos

  • Masa Chekov

    This article reads like it was written by Mr Johnson and put out there for publication by this “Stuart Braun”, who though a journalist doesn’t seem to have anything published regarding Japan online, and precious little otherwise.

    Japan Times – could you PLEASE do some background checking on your writers? What is the agenda with attacking the same people who were attacked in the piece written by Johnson (and roundly criticized in the comments) here a few weeks ago? Why is the Japan Times attacking very minor blog sites again, just as that previous article did?

    Beyond that, Johnson – oh, I’m sorry “Stuart Braun” – doesn’t even bother to define the term “apologist”. It seems that one who does not agree with some of the crap published in the mainstream press outside Japan that one is an “apologist”? What a loaded term! It immediately implies that the “apologist” is ignoring facts for some one-sided fiction. How offensive.

    And what does “pro-Japan” mean anyway?

  • iago

    This writer, whoever it may be, seems to ascribe a lot of power to a (relatively small) bunch of people’s opinions on blogs, bulletin boards and Youtube, while failing to actually address the opening question. In fact, the piece is not about bias, or otherwise, in the mainstream media at all, is it? It’s about people having opinions.

    I guess we should all remember the new internet dictionary definition of “Troll” — i.e. A person who expresses an opinion different from my own.

    Other than as click-bait (and yes, I fell for it too), it’s hard to see the value of this article. It is, after all, just one(?) person’s opinion.

    • tomado

      A newspaper article about blogs about newspaper stories about the internet…and I told two friends and they told two friends and so on and so on…

    • huhu

      I support nationalism in Japan just as I support nationalism in my native country (China). It’s called not being a hypocrite.

      Conflict of interest yes, but not conflict of ideology.

      Why do you think left-wingers cheer for socialism all over the world? Are they apologists? If you want to examine who blindly criticizes entire nations, the first place to start is with the left.

      • Kansaimojo

        The left AND the right are both guilty of judging entire nations. And of course blaming the left as a whole or blaming the right as a whole seems just as silly.

        Of course, Nationalism is also a wide word. If you are a soft nationalist that believes your country is a good country then fair enough, if you are a mid nationalist and believe your country is better then others that would be up for debate, would depend on agreeable evidence and definitions, etc… but that’s also fine. But people how are mid to high nationalist (or ultral leftis) are almost always ignorant, judgemental, uneducated or educated in a logically fallacious way. The truth is you and and the other guy were born at random with the genes we have at random and it could have been different. There is nothing special about you or I or anyone. Political states and the individuals that live within a certain border or not identical. Nor can one group different people from the same country as holding certain traits. What does a guy from shanghai have in common from a native tibetan, a guy rasied on a boat in hong kong or a person from Uyghur? How can I judge them as all being the same? What does a tokyo business man have in common with an Okinawan fisherman or an Innu in Hokkaido?

        Im a centralist because I think that anyone who judges a people or a state or a person as being identical is naïve. Uber right wing nationalist (like girl in osaka who was yelling kill the koreans) tend to people shitty people not because they are nationalist.. but because there is something else wrong with them or their lives and they need to blame someone or something else who they don’t identify with for their problems.

    • 1derer

      Well-reasoned rhetoric is a positive in and of itself. It doesn’t matter that it only represents the view of a single person. The ideas of individuals are important.

      As for the article title: These are normally set by editors, not writers. A firm law of discourse is that the writers’ duty is to deal with the subject he addresses in his opening paragraph, not the title, which they likely don’t control.

      Here, the author adeptly introduces an interesting subject and provides a broad overview of it. I certainly feel that I learned a great deal about a subject that I previously knew little about.

  • Nevin Thompson

    I’ve never heard of Stuart Braun before, and a quick Google Search shows only a couple of articles to his name. I wonder why the JT chose him to report on this story? Strange viewpoint, too: there’s the “journalists” versus “pro-Japan bloggers”. One wonders whether or not Braun is familiar with Kyung Lah’s reporting on Japan, or, if he is familiar with her work on CNN, he has the background on Japan to understand that her reporting is sensationalist and bordering on racist.

    I think you need to have some local knowledge of Japan to report on the country, and also need to speak and read Japanese. Too bad Braun does not.

    But the question is, why would JT publish such an inexperienced journalist?

    • Masa Chekov

      Very low standards, apparently.

    • iago

      I doubt that the Japan Times actively commissioned this article to fill a much-needed gap in the “articles about what a person I’ve never heard of thinks about Japan” market.
      Much more likely that the writer submitted the article on spec. and Japan Times’ editorial staff felt it fit a vacant space in the community pages.

      • thedudeabidez

        Or perhaps it could be that articles on issues like this one provoke a lot of discussion and debate amongst readers.

      • iago

        Well, your “or” is somewhat redundant; there’s no doubt the ultimate intent is to generate traffic, albeit through “discussion and debate” that is inflamed rather than informed.

      • Vacant space in this case means an entire 560mm broadsheet page of the printed Japan Times.

        No story in Tuesday’s paper was larger in terms of space or words.

        How many traditionally sized printed newspapers do you know would give this much physical space for one opinion column? Amazing.

      • iago

        With such a gaping hole to fill, I guess they are lucky this piece happened along. In fact, with so much vacant space, it’s conceivable the editor actually had to add material from elsewhere in order to fill the void. And yet, strangely, the void is still there.

    • phu

      JT continues to publish the self-citing and self-aggrandizing Arudou Debito regularly, among a whole lot of other fluff, so it’s hard to give the editorial staff much credit at all… I keep trying to wean myself off of JT in favor of the Yomiuri Shimbun because of this, but it’s obviously not working very well.

  • Toolonggone

    Is this reality check of ideological polarization(i.e., liberal v. conservative shouting match) in Japan? Whatever. I don’t give credit to them because many bloggers don’t have academic and/or journalistic credentials to critique complicated issues. Not even close to Fox News or Rupert Murdock.

    • Masa Chekov

      That’s the thing – the sites mentioned in this article are not professional news sites, nor do they purport to be. They are just places for people in Japan and people interested in Japan to discuss current events and the like.

      I have NO idea why they are included in a discussion in a reasonable sized professional newspaper. Well, I do know – but I am not sure why JT is giving this person a platform.

      • Mark Garrett

        “I have NO idea why they are included in a discussion in a reasonable sized professional newspaper. Well, I do know – but I am not sure why JT is giving this person a platform.”

        LOL. Then you obviously don’t know how newspapers and websites make their money. Here’s a hint…take a look at how many comments this article has generated.

      • Gordon Graham

        Mark is right…stooping to join the frenzy of the online comment feed is where journalism is headed. Actually, it’s already there. The writing is on the wall for print media.

      • Masa Chekov

        No doubt. I was talking about more of an ethical/integrity sort of perspective, though.

  • Roan Suda

    This sloppily written article is full of innuendo and weasel words. The most absurd suggestion, one not directly related to the topic, is that the American media were more critical of Obama than of Romney–i.e., hint, hint, that there is no leftwing bias. Ha!…Not all of us who are heartily sick of Japan-bashers such as Arudou Sharpton and company inhabit a cherry-blossom-colored haze, with secret yearnings to drive around in neo-nationalist sound trucks…One minor complaint: reticent is not a fancy synonym for reluctant. The writer needs to take a course in remedial English.

  • Daisuke

    I am not sure what is worse. This article, or the attention it is recieving? This piece just runs around in circles like a child without pants on. Copy and pasted youtube links and unexplained fancy dribble should not validate publication. Truth is the stupid illustration is the only reason people are reading this crud, delete it and let the article get the attention it deserves!

    • tammy mathews

      Although I agree with your sentiment I do not think the illustration is stupid.

      • Japanese4Morons

        I actually thought the illustration was the best thing about the whole piece!

  • Gordon Graham

    I wonder if it was a “conscious choice” of Mr.Braun to leave out the fact the Mr. Dezaki left his job at the end of his short-term contract in order to travel as stated on one of his Youtube uploads. Or whether or not it was a “conscious choice” to choose to state that Mr.Dezaki was an “American teacher” and not an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher) and as such was assigned to help teach his charges English conversation, not social science. That Mr.Dezaki had no license to teach and was therefore unqualified to teach human rights in a social science type class (entirely in Japanese) seems an insignificant detail for Mr.Braun, who prefers implying that Mr.Dezaki was hounded out of a job. I’d like to thank Mr.Braun for demonstrating the kind of misinformation he seems to question in his article.

  • The Apologist

    The article writer’s invoking of a political left-right dichotomy to describe this debate is inaccurate. One doesn’t have to be a nationalist or support nationalism on any grounds in order to enjoy living in Japan and/or thinking that many popular criticisms of Japan are shallow, ill-formed or unjust. As for other typically right-left issues, such as centralized economics and moral issues, there is a wide variety of viewpoints among the so-called apologists.

    However, the many comments citing Japan’s ‘timid’ ‘right-wing’ ‘non-critical’ etc. etc. are typical of the problem those of us on the allegedly ‘apologistic’ side oppose. How many of these claimants can or do regularly read Japanese news media, magazines or listen to in-depth Japanese news stories. If not, and I suspect ‘not’, on what basis are these claims being made? I suspect they are borrowed tropes from the standard Western sources, popular, unexamined old prejudices.

    Japanese media is rich with variety and vitality, in-depth and critical commentary, and yes on such issues as Fukushima fallout and racial relations. Unless you can follow it, and choose to do so regularly, claiming otherwise is just a matter of parroting ignorance. Trotting out this tired, narrow establishment view is just the opposite of ‘critical thinking’.

    • Ron NJ

      Fantastic job tossing out ad hominem attacks instead of addressing the issue at hand.

      • The Apologist

        I’m not sure why you use the term ‘ad hominem’ since that refers to egregious attacks on the character of a specific person, as opposed to addressing their argument.

        Anyway, I think popular (mis)perceptions of the Japanese media are very much an issue since, as the original article stated and as we can see in subsequent commentary, an alleged lack of in-depth investigatory reporting and critical response is regarded as the justification for the negativity.

        To reiterate, I find it quite unbelievable that anyone– much less a kanji nerd or hard core Japanophile– can walk by the current affairs section of magazines in a Japanese book store or even a half-stocked kiosk and not be aware of the variety of alternative and critical titles, perspectives and so on offered (not to mention several such books featured in book stores and on best seller lists). Since these journals and magazines are advertised on trains and elsewhere I don’t know how people could ignore this unless they had no reading ability whatsoever or are willfully oblivious to their surroundings.

        Even the rightish Yomiuri publishes in-depth critical pieces, and of course the Asahi is considered its political nemesis, the lefty newspaper in Japan. This is true of TV too- I regularly hear critical and insightful pieces and programs on NHK, as well as other channels. In fact, I really don’t know how any regular viewer can miss these unless you have already decided to maintain a stereotype no matter what. If you choose to not listen, and/or can’t understand the talking heads, and instead turn to the ‘talento’ shows with rubber hammers and funny wigs, and then pronounce Japanese TV to be nothing but uncritical fluff, just who is being myopic?

        I suspect that it is not Hiroshi and Hana Q. Salaryman who are being kept in the dark, getting their information from limited, uncritical sources, but the type of person who gets their socio-political pablum from Debito and the like. Trotting out old stereotypes while ignoring the reality of the society around you (if you care to look) and then claiming that the Japanese are being fed a single, monolithic, socio-political discourse is viscerally ignorant and arrogant.

      • Gordon Graham

        Ouch! I’d say that’s a big touche their Ronny boy!

  • The Apologist

    As an addendum to my previous comment…

    The writer also mischaracterizes the two camps by conflating the wish or need to criticize Japan with the ‘left’ or the ‘anti-Japan’ camp, as if the ‘pro-Japan side maintains an ‘everything is fine’ perspective. This is untrue. What many of us oppose is not criticism of Japan, but the same old untested, knee-jerk critiques being uncritically spouted and treated as if they were established truths.

    Many of us also resent the mindless Debito-all-Japan-hate-all-the-time mode.

    I don’t feel the need to defend Japan on any and every issue, and can be quite critical myself, but I do regard many of the standard outsiders’ typical ‘here’s-the-dark-side-they-don’t-tell-you-about’ so-called ‘critiques’ as unsophisticated, dated, sophomoric, quasi-racist, and, as a result, generally invalid.

    • Hitokiri 1989

      Thats all fine. The problem is when these things stray into the history issue which is where the “everything is fine” prospective pops up. For e.g, the Nanking photo referred to above. Its clear that Oyaji 2.5 is sympathetic to the Japanese right-wing view when they allude that many aspects of the massacre were made up. That is a refusal to believe that Japan can do anything wrong.

      • Sasori

        actually, its ‘can’t do anything wrong’, as apposed to ‘can do everything right’.

    • Sasori

      So, anyone who has negative viewpoints regarding the people or places of their new surroundings is ‘unsophisticated, dated, sophomoric, quasi-racist, and, as a result, generally invalid’?

      Where do you fit, within this description?

  • StevenStreets

    LOL “Tit for Tat brouhaha” (I cant discern if its the brew or the HaHa)

  • Ben Snyder

    Wow, epic troll bash.

  • chillinkansai

    I was very sad that I wasn’t mentioned in the article. I have quite a few videos that could use some more views. I need to get on 2.5 Oyajis when they have one of the controversial shows. :D

    • Gimmeabreakman

      They only mentioned Gimmeaflakeman once! I have half a mind not to make fun of this article in the next 2.5 Oyaji Show. LOL!

      • chillinkansai

        lol, Can’t wait to see the video!

    • Japanese4Morons

      2.5 Oyajis talked about this article yesterday.

  • Frank Schirmer

    This article is in dire need of some editing. Cut it down to 15% length and I’ll reconsider.

  • Perhaps if the Japanese media were actually doing a satisfactory job, (instead of checking with each other “Should we print this?”, waiting for government “permission”, or worrying about panic and riots in the most calm country on the planet) there would be less of this.

    What you criticize, to the extent that it is actually valid, is a result of Japan’s failure to be it’s own barometer. Have you considered that Westerners use the sources they do because of a lack of real and timely information to be found within the Japanese media?

    THAT is what you should be focusing on, instead trying to appear one-up on those who are ultimately a mere consequence of this situation. Whether they are wrong or not is irrelevant — that you are ignoring the cause IS.

  • Bruce Chatwin

    When Japan Probe called out a New York Times story for adding “extra fear and distrust” about a planned evacuation from the Fukushima area, the commenter @FullFrontal asked: “Kyung Lah, Tabuchi Hiroko, and Norimitsu Onishi. . . . Why do American media have to send to Japan journalists who have a deep-rooted hatred toward Japan?”

    Tabuchi Hiroko: 2013 Pulitzer Prize winner, 2011 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting (for coverage of the Fukushima tsunami and nuclear disaster).

    • Masa Chekov

      Has anybody said she’s a talentless hack? I really don’t like her perspective on things – she’s the only person I’ve stopped following on Twitter as her postings were constantly negative – but talentless hack? Hardly.

  • JS

    There have so far been 71 comments posted for this article. What I find extremely ironic is that many of these comments that are from the so-called Japan apologists are actually the best validation of the thesis put forth by Stuart Braun in his article (which I incidentally agree with wholeheartedly).

    It is almost hilarious to read some of the apologist comments, since they absolutely prove and validate the very points made by Stuart Braun in the article that these commentators are attacking. I wonder if this ever occured to these commenters.

    It reminded me of the classic move in sumo wrestling. A wrestler sometimes makes his opponent use his own mass in pushing him out of the ring by simply getting out of the way when his opponent is charging. In this case, Stuart Braun does not have to do anything more to prove the accuracy of his article, since the apologist commenters have already done this through the content of their comments. He is probably relaxing with a cold beer thinking, I rest my case!

    • KetsuroOu

      You don’t know what the word “apologist” means, do you?

    • iago

      You’ll have to point the “so-called apologists” out to us as they appear not to be wearing badges.

      Anyway, I assume you mean the case summarized in the closing paragraph: “…most non-native Japanese who write about their adopted home, even those who often critique it, seem to want the same thing: namely, to better understand the country they have chosen to live in and its place in the wider world.”

      Yup. I think that’s pretty much what everyone is saying, in their own way.

      • JS

        May the badge be the huge number of up votes they garner, everytime one of them posts the most trivial or irrational comment?

    • Gordon Graham

      For example…

  • shinjukuboy

    This is a tempest in a teapot. Some foreigners talking to foreigners sealed in their little foreign world. What does it matter? But if it keeps you happy, go ahead.

    • JS

      Why such self loathing and contempt?

    • Gordon Graham

      The World is smaller than you imagine

  • JS

    It is a myth perpetuated by those with personal motives and hidden agendas that non-Japanese without good Japanese language skills cannot understand, analysize or report on Japan. In fact, my experience has been the exact opposite. Some of the most astute, insightful, and honest commentators are actually not fluent in Japanese. I do not think having a high level of Japanese ability makes a person any more qualified to be a good reporter, writer, critic or businessman, if the person does not possess the underlying personal and professional skills. The thinking that Japanese language ability trumps everything else is wrong.

    Fluency in Japanese is not as important to understand Japan, as many would lead one to believe. Sure, you can read Japanese newspapers, but you don’t learn anything since they are devoid of any meaningful content. Same goes for TV news and programs. You can speak to Japanese people if you are fluent in Japanese, but they will rarely tell you their true thoughts and feelings. I find that many non-Japanese who are fluent in Japanese are still quite clueless, so Japanese language ability cannot be used as a litmus test.

    Furthermore, some non-Japanese have invested so much into learning Japanese that they become prisoners of the system in a sense. They are too afraid to ask questions, think critically or assert their independence for fear of losing their coveted status in Japanese society that they have worked so hard to achieve.

    Therefore, saying that so-and-so does not speak fluent Japanese, so he or she cannot be a good journalist/business person/critic, etc., just becomes code for censorship and for stifling and muzzling any meaningful discussion or debate.

    • KetsuroOu

      “Fluency in Japanese is not as important to understand Japan, as many would lead one to believe.”

      Hold on a minute. You’re basically saying that you even if you don’t actually speak or understand the language of a country you can still truly understand ha ha ha HA HA HA, excuse me…

      …hold on a second ha ha ha, so what you’re saying is that people who don’t speak the language of a certain country have just as deep or deeper ha ha ha HA HA HA HA HA HA…

      … a ha ha ha HA HA HA sorry I can’t even type this out…

      HA HA HA

      • I’m voting @JS ‘s comment up just because that’s the most outrageous and funny statement of the thread and I want everyone else to have a laugh at his expense. Willful bigoted ignorance for the win!

      • JS

        It’s actually not as funny as you think. A Japanese person once told me that the Japanese are not very religious in the traditional sense, since “Being Japanese” IS their religion. Therefore, it is an apt comparison.

      • Bruce Chatwin

        “Willful bigoted ignorance”
        Pot, meet kettle…

      • JS

        It’s not as funny as you think. I was told by a Japanese person once that since the Japanese are not very religious in the traditional sense, the Japanese culture and society serve a similar purpose in Japanese life. So, my example, which as I said was to illustrate a point, is not so far off the mark.

      • JS

        Let me give you an example to illustrate my point. The Bible was originally written in Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic. How many followers of Christanity today understand these languages? Is it to say that those Christians who are not proficient in these languages cannot understand Christanity?

      • Gordon Graham

        The Bible is a story…Japan is a living country

      • JS

        Hundreds of millions of people around the world who practice Christanity may disagree with you on this one.

      • Gordon Graham

        Many among those hundreds of millions disagree with each other…Bit of a misunderstanding it seems

      • JS

        That is exactly the point. Disagreements, open debate, discussion, diversity of opinion, plurality of thought, etc., are all very healthy. Christianity as a religion is stronger as a result of the different beliefs it encompasses. Compare the healthy state of Christianity to some other beliefs around the world, and you get the picture.

        The same is true of societies and countries at large. Societies who encourage differences of opinion and allow free expression are generally much healthier than those who suppress these. This is why I think anyone, regardless of how well intentioned they are, who muzzles and suppresses free expression of different opinions about Japan is actually doing Japan a disservice in the long run.

      • Gordon Graham

        The healthy state of Christianity? Are you kidding me? What’s healthy about reinforced delusion? What’s healthy about the Pope telling Africans in the middle of an AIDS epidemic not to wear condoms? What’s healthy about an organisation that harbours and protects and spawns pedophiles? Nice try JS…Tell us the one about the earth being 6000 years old. I need a good chuckle.

    • The Apologist

      JS says: ” you can read Japanese newspapers, but you don’t learn anything since
      they are devoid of any meaningful content. Same goes for TV news and

      Ummm, how would you ‘know’ this unless you can and do read and understand Japanese newspapers, magazines, and in-depth TV reportage? You can’t and/or don’t, do you?
      Blanket statements made from ignorance do not constitute meaningful debate.

      • JS

        Huh? Nowhere did I say that I myself am not fluent in Japanese. Please don’t make erroneous assumptions.

      • Masa Chekov

        And never did you say that you are, either. Are you? And if not, how can you possibly say that it’s not important to be fluent?

      • JS

        In fact, I do. I guess you did not understand my earlier comment.

  • JS

    The article states that the Japan apologists are mostly white middle aged guys who are fluent in Japanese. It follows that these people have integrated into Japanese society. So, it is consistent with this that they would take the same approach in objecting to any form of criticism as the Japanese society overall is culturally and socially programmed to do.

    • The Apologist

      JS says: “…objecting to any form of criticism as the Japanese society overall is culturally and socially programmed to do”

      This type of blanket racist comment, which is quite typical of the neo-colonialist approach, is precisely the type of thing we protest. Most so-called ‘apologists’ oppose this type of glib, simple-minded, WW2 era racial stereotyping that is so common to the Debito crowd precisely because this does not constitute intelligent, meaningful, debatable ‘criticism’. And the sooner the foreign press becomes aware of this, the better.

      • JS

        There is absolutely nothing racist in my comment. Several Japanese have told me themselves that they regret that there is not more criticism, discussion and debate of the status quo in many aspects of Japanese life. Of course, it has to be constructive criticism, which is what I was referring to.

    • Whirled Peas

      To imply that the more one is integrated into Japanese society the more programmed one becomes to not criticizing Japan is nonsense. There are plenty of
      native Japanese people who critique their country.

      You somehow manage to turn a positive into a negative. Has it occurred to you that foreigners who have lived and worked in Japan for many years and have made Japan their home may offer a uniquely balanced view about Japan. These ex-pats have an insider’s experience of the culture, politics and psychology of Japan. And at the same time, because they are from a different culture, they may be able to perceive the Japanese and their institutions a bit more objectively than even the Japanese are able. I say “may” because it depends on the individual.

      If it seems that some people are constantly defending Japan (on the internet) it is because there are plenty of posters who have big gaps in their knowledge of Asian history and politics. It is not that the “defenders” have no criticism of Japan themselves, but in responding to ignorant posts or articles, those concerns may be off-topic.

  • JS

    Is this article implying that, even though, the Japan apologists do not formally belong to right wing organizations in Japan, they nevertheless pander to them?

    • The Apologist

      What we ‘apologists’ represent is nothing more than an loose-knit, organic, popular groundswell of long-term residents who reject the uninformed and often bigoted discourse masquerading as ‘critical analysis of Japan’ (which is unfortunately the manner in which some foreign news agencies portray it).
      We welcome, and even offer, criticisms of Japanese society whether from the left or the right of the political spectrum (or unaligned) as long as it is informed.

      If you need a concrete example of what I mean germane to the present discussion, I would offer up the popular ‘Japanese media just parrot government feeds in the Kisha Club’ meme as an example. If someone wants to argue that Japanese media needs more plurality or independence, fine, but realize that you’re talking to someone who has been in kisha clubs (physically, not as a member), has submitted pieces through kisha, has worked with Japanese newspapers, and has talked, eaten, and drank with Japanese reporters at some length. This doesn’t make my perspective automatically correct, but it does make it far more informed than someone spouting catchphrases as truths that they actually know nothing about.

      • JS

        I applaud your comment and agree with most of what you have said.

        However, if the assertions in the article are accurate, then it would seem that the negative tactics of some individuals overshadow your good intentions. It is almost never right to suppress and muzzle free speech, differences in opinion and various viewpoints just because someone else feels that these are not well informed.

        You can look around the world and see that the countries, cultures, religions and organizations that are thriving are the ones who allow and encourage dissenting voices to be heard. On the other hand, the ones who are struggling are the ones who do not allow plurality of thought and different opinions to be heard. As such, the actions of some individuals described in the article are actually very damaging and detrimental to Japanese society. If these individuals really care about Japan, then why are they hurting Japan through their tactics and actions?

      • When you say “individuals described in the article”, do you mean Christopher Johnson and Debito.org? If so, yes, I agree with what you wrote.

      • JS

        No, I was actually referring to the apologist camp, not Christopher Johnson or Debito. I think this much is pretty clear if you read my entire comment.

      • Jeffrey

        Nonsense. Perhaps not you, but the overwhelming majority of apologists truck no criticism of Japan, regardless of how informed the opinion may be. They’ve very much adopted, laughably, the my (adopted for some) country, right or wrong attitude.

        And as for the kisha, their very existence has assured that little in the way of meaningful reporting goes on in Japan and is a mockery of any claims that the Japanese media enjoys anything remotely like press freedom.

  • qwerty

    without the dumbo argument that “other countries are bad too”, the “apologists” and the “guests” have only one stumpy leg between them to stand on

  • qwerty

    “Every miserable fool who has nothing at all of which he can be proud, adopts as a last resource pride in the nation to which he belongs; he is ready and happy to defend all its faults and follies tooth and nail, thus reimbursing himself for his own inferiority.”
    ― Arthur Schopenhauer

    most of the people who criticize Japan just want it to be better

    • I sure when YOU criticize Japan, you do want it to be better. So do the people you hang around with. Good for you. That’s a good attitude.

      However, if you read some of the other sites mentioned in this article (ex. debito.org), you will find that most of the people commenting/posting on it left Japan years ago, and they have been encouraging people to “give up”, “leave Japan”, “never marry a Japanese person”, “Japan is hopeless and beyond saving”. There are countless examples of these writings, both by the main author/moderator/leader and by its commenters, going back years.

      I don’t think those actions count as “[wanting] it to be better.”

      • Jeffrey

        And of course, the same must be said for a horrible site like Japan Probe. You could comment there, “Gee, it sure seems to rain a lot during tsuyu,” and half that monkey house would explode in a rage, belittle you and try to prove you were wrong.

        The Japanese have never been very good at self-reflection or self-criticism. A good portion of the war generation don’t regret WWII because it was wrong, but because they lost.

  • takeo

    Congratulations to Stuart Braun for the excellent article. Greetings to Japan Times for publishing. This is what Japan needs with the World: debate direct, dialogue.

  • Phillip Ochola

    I understand your critique of foreign media, but one thing you may not have considered is that the recent political environment in Japan is becoming more and more consequential to the world. For example, the Fukushima disaster is an event that not only has consequences for Japan, it also has consequences for the environment and nations around the pacific. And even you should acknowledge that for a disaster this scale the government and Tepco have tried as hard as they should to solve the problem. That aside, with the introduction of Abenomics, you should expect that local politics and regional politics will come into the limelight to everyone in the world. This is because of the implications which would affect world markets. While I agree that sometimes foreign media outlets don’t fully understand Japan and its culture, I think you would be expecting too much for them to perfectly represent the situation in Japan. Sadly economists will look for the flaws, because its the flaws that would shake world markets…. or make them money. They will analyze Japans relations with its neighbors due to the economic significance, they will analyze Japanese attitudes to foreigners and immigrants, again because of the economic importance of immigration. To sum it up, a lot of this attention has been brought about by Japanese policy.
    I personally think that this is an opportunity for Japan to reinvent itself and present a true or clearer picture of Japan to the world. Relations among neighbors can be improved, by improving what works as a start, such as economic partnerships or partnered projects, Japanese politics itself can be improved for the betterment of the Japanese people themselves. Japanese politicians who are under intense scrutiny in the world stage can take it as an opportunity to present the image of Japan that they like.
    In the end Japan will have to come to terms with the increased scrutiny and will have to deal with it.

  • Tinkerjoy

    Japan’s foreign-born defenders are just that: foreign-born. By bringing their acculturated passion for bipartisan politics and immature, theatrical opinions to their newly-adopted country they only demonstrate the point that they are not Japanese. Having knowledge, or even exclusive knowledge, of Japan does not entitle one to have bragging rights.

    They are fortunate that the average Japanese do not read the appallingly arrogant, even prescriptive, views on Japan written by these insistent individuals bent on proving that they have cultural credentials.

    Every country east of Europe has had both vocal supporters and detractors from the ex-patriates residing in their country. Japan is no different, only except for a certain group who wish to politicise their triumph despite being labelled a ‘gaijin’ upon arrival.

    Comparing the above gaijin crusaders with the (Asian) ex-patriates residing in the US or the UK and their media about lives in said countries, the difference becomes clear: few in the latter group have such profound arrogance to consider themselves an authority on their host country, let alone defend or criticise it with an entitled identity.

    This being said, why can’t we have more English-speaking Japanese correspondents instead?

  • Christopher Johnson

    The reaction of trolls, here in this comments section, basically provides more verifiable evidence for the points in the article. The article was by Berlin based reporter Dr. Stuart Bruan, not by me as many have falsely claimed.

  • Bundyson

    I wouldn’t get too worked up about those 2.5 Oyaji dudes. They haven’t been here long at all…. 14 years here and they are still ‘newbies’ – what we call ‘teenagers’ in the circle of expats I know – one year of ‘age’ for each year in residence here. Who should listen to and take the advice of 14 year olds???? There’s your answer! No one I know except those ‘younger’. Lighten up and look at them from that viewpoint next time you are unfortunate enough to watch their ‘adolescent presentations’.