In recent years, there have been several cases where Japanese media icons, especially those who shine across national and language borders, have been accused of falsifying their personal histories, and they have consequently lost whatever popularity they had gained through the mass media and/or books.
The most public example of this recently was Hisashi Moriguchi, a visiting scholar at the University of Tokyo who was reported by the Yomuri Shimbun on Oct. 11 to have made significant medical breakthroughs at Harvard University using pluripotent stem (iPS) cells. This was soon proven to be false when the Harvard University-affiliated hospital where he claimed to have done the procedure denied the claim.
After several media outlets reported on the controversy, Moriguchi was forced to admit that he had lied, including when he said he was a “physician assistant” licensed by the state of Massachusetts.
Moriguchi’s dishonesty was so brazen that it was easily uncovered by the mainstream media, but recently the fake resumes or CVs of several Web luminaries have been revealed through the power of online networks of people keeping an eye out for such imposters.
In Japan, Yoshikazu Kato is known as “the most famous Japanese person in China.” He first appeared in Japanese media around 2010 as someone who had graduated from Beijing University, became famous on Chinese TV and the Web and published books in Chinese. He was seen as a young authority on Chinese views, which are often hard for Japanese people to guess accurately.
Criticism of Kato began to burst out on the Web when the Weekly Bunshun revealed on Oct. 30 that he had lied in China when he said that he’d entered the University of Tokyo but quit and chose Beijing University — a story that he had apparently intended to appeal to Chinese people’s pride. More inconsistencies were found by Chinese-speaking Japanese Web users, such as his claim that he’d received Japanese grants in China and Chinese grants in Japan, and that his overblown titles at Beijing, Keio and Harvard universities were false. Eventually Kato was forced to apologize on Oct. 31 for his actions.
Another example is that of Jung-Hoon Kim, a contract associate professor of Keio University, who became successful by writing self-help books based on his international experiences as a researcher. In May, popular bloggers began questioning apparent errors in his resume. He then admitted on his website that he had used incorrect titles in his CV — omitting “contract” from contract associate professor at Keio and “visiting” from senior visiting research associate at Oxford. He also claimed he was a visiting professor at Harvard when he was actually only a visiting scholar. (Keio was rather light on him and he was simply warned, as it deemed that not all were intentional mistakes.)
The University of Tokyo, which most Japanese believe is the nation’s best school, has also been a more direct victim of fraud.
The resume of Anilir Serkan, a German-born Turkish assistant professor at the University of Tokyo, who also received a Doctor of Engineering degree from the university in 2003, was so jam-packed that it almost read like a joke — it turns out it was extremely far-fetched. Serkan claimed to be a multi-talented genius with major achievements in cosmophysics, architectonics and mathematics, fluency in eight languages, and a record of having researched and lectured at popular universities in Europe, America and Japan. He also claimed to be a former Olympic skier for Turkey, to have a pilot license and to have trained at NASA as the first-ever Turkish astronaut candidate. Since around 2006, he published space-science essays and make speeches on the subject in Japan.
In 2009, however, some people on the Web started to express doubts about his fantastical biography and gathered online to investigate and ultimately expose how most of his career was fabricated. He disappeared when the University of Tokyo officially rescinded his doctorate and dismissed him punitively — the first time this had happened in its long history.
Some are of the opinion that people like Serkan are targeted online because others are envious or distrustful of such terms as “the University of Tokyo,” “popular author,” “successful” and so on. Especially during the early stages of criticism — when only a few people are raising questions against online identities — fans passionately offer support, saying “You are just jealous of their success,” or “Don’t beat the nail that sticks out, it’s a bad Japanese habit. It’s better to praise success like Americans do.”
Generally, Japanese people do not question the career records of others — academic or work records mentioned on resumes are scarcely double-checked. Showing distrust of others is not considered decent in a harmonious society. While this does reveal a good side to society, where you can generally trust others without checking, there are some people who abuse it.
There have probably always been people who used similar methods to give a falsely magnified image of their experience and ability to do a job. And until recently such people may have got away with it. But with the availability of easy fact-checking of records online, even regular people can point out inconsistencies anonymously.
Akky Akimoto writes for Asiajin.com, an English/Spanish blog on the Japanese Web scene. His Twitter account @akky is followed by 120,000 users.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.