* Media persons of the year: Children

For years we’ve been told that Japanese people aren’t having enough of them, but despite cliches about their being precious resources and the hope of the future, those who have managed to make it into this world hardly seem welcome.

Admittedly, the media over-reports anything tragic, but it’s difficult not to get depressed over the daily roll call of kids dying at the hands of parents — or, for that matter, parents dying at the hands of their children.

In addition, school bullying re-entered the national conversation with unexpected force because people suddenly realized that it hadn’t gone away. The most memorable images of the year were the faces of innocents whose names and particulars were broadcast endlessly and whose deaths bore witness to adult selfishness, whether it came in the form of that young mother in Akita who confessed to killing her own daughter and her daughter’s playmate, or in the form of that 22-year-old drunk driver in Fukuoka who crashed into a car killing three preschool siblings.

Between these two examples — the purposely destructive and the destructively careless — were all those parents who it was implied could not cope with children they probably never wanted in the first place.

The celebrated birth of Prince Hisahito, who may become Emperor someday, seemed like a reproach: Here was one child who was not only genuinely wanted, but one who was guaranteed a safe (albeit sterile) upbringing. It was a model no potential parent could ever hope to emulate.

* Media nonperson of the year: Shinzo Abe

Admit it. You miss Junichiro Koizumi. Though he’s only been gone four months, his successor has proven to be such a colorless object of attention that the Koizumi era is already entering its nostalgia phase.

The Asahi Shimbun studied comments the current prime minister made during the hallway press conferences that his predecessor turned into a daily event and concluded that Abe uses many words to say things that Koizumi could express with just a few; but it’s a meaningless calculation since no matter how many words Abe uses he always says nothing.

Of course, Koizumi lacked substance, too. His government reform movement didn’t change a hell of a lot and what it did change hasn’t done much to improve the lot of the average citizen, but at least its goals were understandable.

Abe’s goal of a “beautiful country” is as vague as his personality. The member of the political satire troupe The Newspaper, who impersonates Abe, has said it’s the hardest role he’s ever played because the prime minister essentially has no qualities.

There may be method to this monotony. Abe wants to change the Constitution to make it possible for Japan to have a military that can support its interests at home and overseas. He also wants to shape the educational structure to inculcate the government’s moral imperatives in the minds of children. What better way to accomplish these goals than to sneak them in the back door while everyone is dozing?

* Best TV commercial: Suntory’s Black Oolong Tea

A group of middle-aged men, all dressed in somber suits with bright red napkins tucked under their chins, sit at a round table set with rich food and PET bottles of oolong tea, singing lustily while a young woman in white accompanies them on piano. The song has an effortless melody, and the rhythm is jaunty, almost martial. The men beam as they sing the Chinese lyrics, which are translated into Japanese subtitles at the bottom of the screen: “A life without love or oily food is not a life for me.”

* Worst TV commercial: Daihatsu’s Mira

A 16-year-old boy carries his giggling 40-year-old mother on his shoulders. She climbs down and gets behind the wheel of Daihatsu’s Mira minicar, telling her son before she drives off alone, “I’m just going to have some fun.” The mother is played by the actress called You and the son by Yuya Yagira. They played out the same relationship in the award-winning film “Nobody Knows,” in which a single mother instructs her 11-year-old son to take care of his three younger siblings when she goes off to have some fun. She never returns.

* Winner of the year: Tsuyoshi Shinjo

The former Hanshin Tiger and New York Met ended his charmed career with the Nippon Ham Fighters, who won the Japan Series. Never a baseball prodigy, the lanky outfielder with the irresistible smile (5 million yen worth of dental work, he was proud to admit) was nonetheless a star in the best sense of the word. He never took himself or the game so seriously that he couldn’t show just how much he was enjoying himself. He made fun of his airhead, playboy image because he knew the fans could see through it, but his good luck rubbed off on the Fighters and they had a great year. Well, talent had something to do with it, too.

* Loser of the year: The Democratic Party of Japan

Before earnest, naive DPJ lawmaker Hisayasu Nagata started waving an e-mail in the halls of the Diet that he claimed implicated the son of Liberal Democratic Party honcho Tsutomu Ta-kebe in an alleged money-for-favors deal, the ruling party was in serious trouble because of its mishandling of a series of scandals.

After it was shown that the e-mail was fake, the tables were turned and the DPJ lost all credibility. The party has yet to regain any of it, probably because Ichiro Ozawa, once an LDP honcho himself, took over the reins as a result of the fiasco.

* Most effective coverage: Drunk driving

* Most pointless coverage: Takafumi Horie’s release from jail

* Most problematic coverage: Youth suicides

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.