In her regular column in the Dec. 11 issue of Shukan Bunshun, novelist Mariko Hayashi blasted the weekly magazines, including Bunshun, for failing to follow up on a scandal that, under normal circumstances, should have been right up their alley. The daughter of the late Osaka-based singer and TV host, Takajin Yashiki, is suing author Naoki Hyakuta over his new book, “Junai,” which purports to tell the true story of Takajin’s “pure love” for the much younger woman he married in 2013, just before he died of esophageal cancer at the age of 64. The daughter claims that the book defames her character and covers up the truth that Takajin’s young bride, Sakura, was only after his money.
What Hayashi found strange is that Bunshun was the first media outlet to report on Sakura’s alleged gold-digging intentions, but once Hyakuta became her biographer, everyone decided the story was off-limits, because Hyakuta is such a powerful figure in the media — the writer of best-sellers like kamikaze-loving war novel “Eien no Zero” (“The Eternal Zero“), a member of the NHK board of governors and a friend of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. She goes on to say that she gave up on “television wide shows” a long time ago “because all they cover is what major show biz production companies tell them to cover,” but expects more of the weeklies. “How can they call themselves journalists?” she asks, and adds that they are in no position to criticize Asahi Shimbun, which all of them did vociferously after the national daily retracted reports related to “comfort women” and other issues last summer.
It might seem doubly strange that Bunshun even ran her column, but it actually makes sense within the logic of the reasoning Hayashi derides. If the weeklies have decided to avoid the Takajin scandal so as not to provoke Hyakuta’s displeasure and risk being blackballed by him — he’s reportedly scheduled to start a new serial for Bunshun in the near future — they also wouldn’t want to make Hayashi mad, since she is just as popular a writer as Hyakuta is. And with regards to the Asahi persecution, Bunshun’s publisher, Bungeishunju, certainly noted the uproar that resulted when the newspaper didn’t initially run its regular column by news explainer and top TV personality Akira Ikegami in which he complained about Asahi’s integrity.
Scandal journalism has its own set of rules, which don’t always align with those of mainstream journalism, and since we’re talking about the Japanese press, where unnamed sources are as essential to a reporter’s job as self-serving government statements, Hayashi’s indignation may seem misplaced. There’s also the contradictory nature of the weeklies: Because they exist outside the nominally respectable but power-dependent world of “major media,” the weeklies are more likely to uncover scoops while at the same time tending toward a reckless tabloid sensationalism that makes any of their pronouncements suspicious.
In any event, they’re more obviously in it for the money, and in that regard the Takajin scandal is enlightening, since, despite Hyakuta’s ode to selfless love, it exemplifies the influence that money has on image and access. Takajin consolidated his position as a celebrity with an acerbic public persona characterized by his hatred for Tokyo. Fiercely chauvinistic, he was so beloved by fellow Osakans that he hosted no fewer than four TV variety-talk shows, all of which sported his name in their titles.
Three of these programs are still on the air, titles unaltered, a testament to how much their producers owe the legendary spendthrift. Takajin made them rich, and reports say that Sakura will earn a cool ¥150 million a year because the company she established after Takajin’s death administers his legacy. Hyakuta’s book is a guaranteed moneymaker, simple and fast to write since all it is is Sakura’s version of events, and quick to sell because all of Takajin’s fans snatched up a copy. Then there are people who couldn’t care less about Takajin but who buy anything Hyakuta writes.
Hayashi’s challenge to the weeklies threatened to derail this gravy train, and most of them subsequently found ways of defending “Junai.” Shukan Shincho interviewed both Sakura and Hyakuta and then “verified” all the points they made without addressing the daughter’s specific allegations. Bunshun published Hyakuta’s exclusive response to Hayashi’s essay, which didn’t so much answer her questions as refute accusations from Internet commentators who say that Sakura was still married to her previous husband, an Italian, when she started dating Takajin, and, in fact, may not have been divorced yet when she and the singer wed two months before he died. Flash and Friday also acted as apologists for Sakura and, by extension, Hyakuta.
Only Shukan Asahi gave Takajin’s daughter — whose real name remains undisclosed — a chance to air her side of the story, the effect of which is to perpetuate the Asahi vs. The World meme that the Japanese media has perpetuated since last summer, a pointless endeavor since mainstream publications and TV stations have nothing to say about the scandal, not so much out of deference to Hyakuta but because it’s a local story whose unsavory quality reflects poorly on the people involved and those who report it.
And despite his Twitter rants against the trolls who doubt his word, Hyakuta is probably happy about the controversy since he can sell more books to those members of the public who bother to follow it — and who still buy books, another salient point that bears mentioning. Japan’s publishing industry is suffering just as much as the rest of the world’s, and in the absence of any kind of imaginative countermeasures it relies on high-profile writers whose names can still shift units. Whatever Hyakuta’s demerits as a biographer and a public personality, he must be humored, as must Hayashi. What they talk about is beside the point.