How do you apologize for the abusive bullying of kids with disabilities in your past, a chapter of your life that, decades later, results in an international fiasco? If you’re Keigo Oyamada, you wait a while and shift the blame elsewhere.

The musician, best known by his solo alias Cornelius, found himself at the bottom of a media pile-on after interviews he gave in the 1990s to music magazines Quick Japan and Rockin’ On Japan re-emerged on social media, wherein he boasted about being a party to extreme acts of abuse inflicted on schoolmates with disabilities. Oyamada, 52, resigned from his position as a composer for the already beleaguered opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics as a result, issuing a general apology for his past actions.

He avoided attention in the weeks following, while live bookings fell by the wayside and educational TV shows he soundtracked were canceled. In the past week, however, Oyamada has re-appeared in an attempt to mend his image. He sat down with weekly tabloid Shukan Bunshun for a two-hour interview in which he promised to reveal why he hadn’t revisited the bullying statements since making them, and followed that with more detailed statements online in both Japanese and English.

Big, tear-stained public apologies have long been a common occurrence for public figures in Japan, whether coming from the world of entertainment or politics. Things have ramped up as social media has gained more prominence in our lives, however. A near-weekly occurrence involves clicking on YouTube’s “Trending” category and being greeted by a content creator — normally goofy but now somber and dressed in formal attire — staring intently at the camera and asking for forgiveness.

The online apology is akin to ripping the digital bandage off quickly, with the sinner hoping to make it clear that they feel bad about whatever they did — whether people believe them or not (many don’t) — and that they will take the opportunity to learn from the situation. Some may even attempt to atone for the mistake by using their platform to help those they’ve wronged.

Which makes Oyamada’s recent moves curious. Had he simply issued his generic “I’m sorry” message and vanished for six to 12 months until general anger toward the Olympics had faded, he might have been able to creep back into the music world without too much heat. Alternatively, he could have given a longer and more detailed version of his current statement much sooner. Instead, he waited two months and, in an effort to flip the narrative, brought the issue back into the spotlight while wounds were still fresh.

Oyamada has taken a multimedia path to patching up his image. The Bunshun article only appears in full for subscribers or those who bought the physical copy of the magazine, while the statements exist for anyone to access. Both share the same basic content though. While he apologizes for the tone and vulgarity of the interviews — saying he indulged in it to help boost his then-fledgling solo career, attempting to tap into the “kichiku būmu” (bad taste boom) of the 1990s. He then claims Rockin’ On Japan warped his words and turned them into “factual inaccuracies,” and that he wasn’t allowed to check the article before publication, a practice that is common in Japanese entertainment media. (In Rockin’ On Japan’s defense, the fact the magazine did not allow him to check the piece before publication adheres more closely to standard journalistic practices that promote independent reporting. “Factual inaccuracies” is a term that also gets used when Japanese celebrities don’t like the way something has been phrased or a writer’s opinion.) Oyamada didn’t do any bullying, he says, but rather he witnessed similar actions. Still, he ends by emphasizing that he’s a changed man.

It’s really never made clear why Oyamada had to wait 27 years to set the record straight on this, however, other than the fact that he is getting in trouble for it now. The musician attempts to pin the blame on the media — a big juicy target for many. This could very well be warranted, and the publishers of at least one magazine are standing by him on this front. Ohta Books, publisher of Quick Japan, issued an apology from the company president and the writer for shortcomings on their side, including “bias.”

What actually happened — with Oyamada potentially being an abusive bully, with these publications potentially getting something wrong — hasn’t been made clearer, and the “apology statement” functions better as a deflection, trying to transform a conversation on one person’s past into a discussion on the conduct of the media.

It’s savvy in theory, but the move might backfire, since netizens don’t normally see the publisher of a media outlet suddenly doing an about-face as settling a topic once and for all. Users on Twitter have already reacted negatively to Oyamada’s latest statement, both in how it tries to switch the topic from the abuse those children went through while implying that simply watching someone get bullied isn’t as bad. Though others think Rockin’ On Japan hasn’t been put under the microscope enough.

Perhaps, down the line, this whole situation will fade from mainstream discussion and Oyamada will return to music. The internet never forgets, though, no matter how much you try to change the topic.

In line with COVID-19 guidelines, the government is strongly requesting that residents and visitors exercise caution if they choose to visit bars, restaurants, music venues and other public spaces.

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