Debito’s first article in Shingetsu News Agency: “The Japan Times Becomes Servant to the Elite” (Feb 2, 2019) (FULL TEXT)

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Hi Blog.  A couple of days ago I commented on an article in the Japan Times by a former Ministry of Foreign Affairs diplomat and TV pundit Miyake Kunihiko (or “Kuni”, for gaijin ingratiation) who has a weekly JT space for his musings.  A pedigreed elite trained in international “Gaijin Handling”, Miyake clumsily talks about Japan’s race relations and multiethnic future by critiquing tennis champ Osaka Naomi’s “Japaneseness”.

My JT comment helped draw readers to the article, and I’ve just written my first feature piece for the Shingetsu News Agency (the only independent English-language media left in Japan not toeing a Japanese government line) about what Miyake’s article indicates in terms of the decline in the JT’s analytical abilities, as it swings rightward to knuckle under to revisionist pressure on Japanese media and curry favor with Japan’s elites.  It also cites other research from Reuters and the Asia-Pacific Journal (Japan Focus).  Full text follows for the record.  Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

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The Japan Times Becomes Servant to the Elite
By Debito Arudou

Shingetsu News Agency, February 2, 2019

Courtesy http://shingetsunewsagency.com/2019/02/02/the-japan-times-becomes-servant-to-the-elite/ (full text reproduced with permission)

SNA (Honolulu) — On January 28, the Japan Times published an opinion piece titled, “How Japanese is Naomi Osaka?” Author Kunihiko Miyake “felt something odd” about how the multiethnic tennis champ could ever “represent Japan.” Miyake’s article is indicative of how the quality of analysis has slipped under the Japan Times’ new ownership, and suggests how the purposes of the organization have changed…

To start with Miyake and his most recent article, he questions just how “Japanese” Naomi Osaka is: “Yes, she is [the first Japanese to be ranked World No. 1 in tennis]. But not quite so, is she?” He goes on to pick over her Haitian-American-Japanese background, noting that she “calls America home” and plays for Japan because of “more financial support.”

His insinuation is that foreigners such as Osaka are motivated to come to Japan for the money, not because they actually like the place and want to contribute.

Miyake’s column then veers off topic to snipe at “stereotypical comments on Osaka’s victory” made by “expat pundits living in Japan” who “criticize xenophobia and discrimination in Japanese society.” He is suffused with righteous indignation after his own not-entirely-logical detour.

He concludes that discrimination and xenophobia are “quite common everywhere.” He asks: What about discrimination in the Middle East, Europe, and even the United States? The “whataboutism” is indeed strong in this one, as well as the “foreigners can’t criticize Japan” sentiment.

Miyake then declares that “Japan is learning lessons as well,” noting how it is becoming a multiracial and multicultural society—to the point where sometimes “Japanese nationals are minorities.” But he still can’t help adding that tinge of fear of being outnumbered.

Miyake’s heart does seem to be in the right place when he opines that foreigners and biracial Japanese “are not rare anymore” and that Japan will have to learn “how to get along well with foreign newcomers.” But again, he’s implying, even after generations of international marriages and children born here, that Japan’s multiculturality and multiethnicity is a recent development.

The only thing that is new is the fact that one of Japan’s multiethnic citizens has become a world champion. So now it matters.

Miyake returns to Naomi Osaka to graciously pronounce her as “very Japanese,” citing her behavior, such as having the “Japanese characteristics” of “modesty, politeness, honesty, and humility.” (Never mind that her opponent in the champion match, Petra Kvitova, was similarly polite and gracious in defeat. Does it logically follow that Kvitova and anyone else who is polite must be Japanese as well?)

Miyake makes a good point towards the end, where he rightly asserts that, “It’s time for Japan to allow dual citizenship.”

His reasoning, however, is askew. It’s not because dual passports would save Naomi Osaka (and thousands of other multiethnic Japanese children) the emotional pain of sacrificing part of their identity to fit into an artificial binary, but rather because “Japan will lose one of their greatest tennis players.” In other words, it’s for the good of the nation, the kokutai, through which Japanese can feel communal superiority.

The Broader Picture of Japan Times Changes

This half-baked column is indicative of something much larger—a decline in analytical prowess due to the editorial changes at the Japan Times in recent years.

The Japan Times came under new ownership in June 2017 by the media group News2u Holdings, a PR company. In an unexpected editorial shift, last November the Japan Times announced that it would henceforth be rewording the “potentially misleading” (and internationally-recognized) terms “Comfort Women”—which is already a direct translation of the official euphemism of ianfu—as “women who worked in wartime brothels, including those who did so against their will, to provide sex to Japanese soldiers.” Likewise, the term “forced laborers” would now be rendered merely as “wartime laborers,” following the new government policy.

Aside from journalistic concerns about cramming a wordy term into concise articles, it wasn’t hard for media observers to understand this as a response to government pressure, already manifest in Japanese media and world history textbooks, to portray Japan’s past in a more exculpatory light.

Reuters has since reported that the executive editor of the Japan Times, Hiroyasu Mizuno, was recorded at a meeting with staff as saying, “I want to get rid of criticism that Japan Times is anti-Japanese.” Another executive added that this would increase advertising revenues from Japanese companies and institutions.

Reuters added that the Japan Times “had already increased government ad sales and scored an exclusive interview with [Prime Minister Shinzo] Abe after dropping a column by Jeff Kingston, director of Asia studies at Temple University Japan, who had been writing weekly on what he saw as the Abe administration’s historical revisionism.”

Symbolizing this shift, Shingetsu News Agency last December drew attention to a photo of News2u Publisher and Chair Minako Kambara Suematsu literally cozying up to Prime Minister Abe at a public event.

Reuters concluded by pointing out a remarkable coincidence: Late last year, the ultraconservative think tank Japan Institute for National Fundamentals zeroed in on the Japan Times, demanding they refer to plaintiffs in a controversial Korean court ruling on the Comfort Women as “wartime Korean workers,” thereby leaving out the nuance of forced labor or sexual slavery. Two weeks later, the Japan Times changed its wording.

The academic venue Asia-Pacific Journal (Japan Focus) has also published a detailed article by David McNeill and Justin McCurry depicting internal tensions within the Japan Times, with petitions for change, staff being yanked from their beat, editorial refusals to cover certain news stories, and connections to far-right groups decrying the “poor quality of Japan’s English-language media, the gateway through which foreign nationals access information about the country.”

Fear and Favor

In sum, the Japan Times is clearly bowing to the years of pressure from the Abe administration, the longest-lasting and furthest-right political administration in Japan’s postwar era. As a media outlet, the Japan Times has long been seen as means of “communicating Japan to the world” (i.e. not a forum for discussion about Japan’s domestic problems), and those in charge want that message to be favorable.

I myself have been a contributing writer for the Japan Times since 2002, writing as the “Just Be Cause” column since 2008. My specialty is human rights issues towards non-Japanese residents. In other words, I cover domestic problems.

Since 2017 and the arrival of the new team, I have felt a palpable editorial chill come over my submissions, and my column went from a monthly to a “pitch-an-idea-for-us-to-approve” status. Now I’m lucky if I get an article published every few months.

In fairness, the Japan Times did recently publish my annual top ten list of human rights issues, where I put the Japan Times editorial issues as the #3 concern of 2018, but clearly my writing used to be published at this newspaper in a much more hard-hitting fashion.

For example, my column of July 6, 2015, noted how the Fujisankei Communications Group acquisition of news outlet Japan Today had shifted the English-language media landscape rightward politically, with articles becoming more assiduous in pointing out non-Japanese misbehavior, yet muted in its criticism of Japan.

This was after the English-language arms of Japan’s major newspapers, including the Daily Yomiuri (eventually relaunched as The Japan News), the Daily Mainichi, and the Asahi Evening News, had relegated their foreign staff away from investigative journalism into mere translation duties.

The chair of NHK, Katsuto Momii, even went so far as to state publicly in 2016 that his network would not report on contentious subjects until the government has “an official stance” on them—meaning that NHK is willfully acting as a government mouthpiece.

Back then, I had concluded that the Japan Times is “the only sustainable venue left” with investigative non-Japanese and independently-thinking Japanese writers who are “bravely critiquing current government policy without fretting about patriotism or positively promoting Japan’s image abroad.” I’m not confident anymore that this remains the case.

So how does one become a regular Japan Times columnist nowadays? Let’s check back in with Kunihiko Miyake.

Since April 16, 2018, Miyake’s musings have been appearing weekly. No doubt his solid pedigree got his foot in the door. A prominent television pundit, Miyake’s tagline indicates he is “President of the Foreign Policy Institute and Researcher at the Canon Institute for Global Studies.” He is also a former diplomat at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a Tokyo University Law graduate.

This fulfills the Japan Times’ apparent need at the current juncture to cozy up to Japan’s elites.

The downside is that Miyake’s column is evidence of the blindness of Japan’s brahmins. He is essentially a person trained in international “gaijin handling” trying to make insightful comments on Japan’s current race relations and multiethnic future. Bring back Jeff Kingston!

The Japan Times is clearly trading quality journalistic insight for elite access, privilege, and funding. By hewing to a government-approved line, its quality as a news and analytical source will therefore continue to decline.

ENDS

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As Michael Penn at SNA notes, “I’m pleased to note that Debito Arudou has contributed his first article to the Shingetsu News Agency. Aside from being a strong article, it’s another step toward getting a wider range of writers taking advantage of our progressive news media platform.”  Other writers and investigators, please feel free to pitch something to SNA as well.  Debito Arudou Ph.D.

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11 comments on “Debito’s first article in Shingetsu News Agency: “The Japan Times Becomes Servant to the Elite” (Feb 2, 2019) (FULL TEXT)

  • Congrats on your first feature article at the Shingetsu News Agency.

    Do you think that your most recent Just Be Cause article (i.e. Top Ten Issues that Affected NJ Residents in 2018) is the end of the road with the Japan Times?

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    Great article Dr. Debito!
    And reading other articles at SNA seems to show that they aren’t beholden to anyone’s agenda and are telling it like it is! I like it!
    I hope you can become a regular contributor there, and say goodbye to Japan Times, taking your page clicks with you!
    Let Japan Times become another echo-chamber for the rightwing minority. Resident NJ will just laugh and pass it, and any English speaking NJ globally who come across it will simply be turned off Japan by its rampant nationalism. Case in point, look at its comments moderation; some stuff that would be considered as hate-speech in the real world is left up, while comments calling out the shamelessly cheerleading pro-Japan fluff are deleted and comments sections closed. That’s not going to attract new readers nor keep any current ones.

  • OK article. I thought your critique of Miyake’s’ asinine article in the commentary box of the Japan Times was much better. You shouldn’t hold your punches next time. Sometimes you’re wrong in your observations, but nobody could accuse you of not believing in what you say and being beholden to any outside interest or group; unlike the present editorial board of The Japan Times and Mr. Miyake.

  • Loverilakkuma says:

    I feel it really well that newspapers and media become nothing more than a mouthpiece or stooge of propagandistic regime when they receive fundings from powerful financial brokers or state regime. It’s quite similar to what’s happening to some mainstream left media such as NBC/CNN right now. In the last couple of years since 2016, they have been criticized for spreading misleading/false information about Russia (i.e., claiming Russian intrusion into an electric power grid or news websites without any credible evidence, labeling anyone disagreeing with them as Russian stooge). And now, because of their cozy tied-up with CIA/NSA elites, NBC is hurting its journalistic integrity and news report as they are now becoming national intelligence’s mouthpiece to please central Democrats establishment and their wealthy donors. I love to watch NBC news, but I am getting disappointed since the hiring of a notorious Megyn Kelly. And they have been making Kremlin Conspiracy drama (e.g. Paul Manafort meeting with Julian Assange, a recent polar vortex manufactured by Russia, and Russian hackers tying with a Hawaiian Democrat Tulsi Gabbard) to boost their rating by sacrificing their quality journalism since Trump took office. I learn that this type of low-brow propaganda comes from Rachel Maddow’s Show or other daily news.

    So what can we learn from this? It’s all about money and power grab. Money from powerful national elites, think-tanks, billionaires, and/or big corporations hurt the integrity of media and journalism, regardless of political views.

    So, yes, what we are seeing in the Japan Times is quite similar to what is going on with MSNBC/CNN today. I wish I would see the The Intercept Japan some days, should the government/right-wing national deformer/revisionist institutions sweep away investigative journalism from Japan’s English news media landscape, entirely.

  • So Mizuno, the chief editor at Japan Times, wants to court government ad money by only printing pro-government news.

    So let it be known.

    • Loverilakkuma says:

      I would call it Hori money. He and Mizuno are very close friends. An unholy alliance of Japan Times-globism.

  • “Miyake then declares that “Japan is learning lessons as well,” noting how it is becoming a multiracial and multicultural society—to the point where sometimes “Japanese nationals are minorities.” But he still can’t help adding that tinge of fear of being outnumbered.”

    So it seems he is confusing nationality with race and culture. He says there are many “ethnicities”, so “Japanese nationals” could be outnumbered (and attacked? what is he implying?) But what is stopping those Japanese nationals from also being multiethnic? Nothing of course. A pretty common mistake in Japan, but if he is still at that level of lack of knowledge, how could he possibly think that he has anything to say worth listing to? I don’t get it.

  • Dr. Jeff Kingston comments on the Japan Times’ rightward swing in East Asia Forum:

    Media ethics betrayed in Japan
    12 February 2019
    Author: Jeff Kingston, Temple University Japan

    Imagine that the editorial page of The New York Times suddenly shifted dramatically rightward and columnists critical of US President Donald Trump were ousted and replaced by sycophantic pundits. Then a tape emerges of the editor justifying these changes as intended to counter accusations that the newspaper is anti-American and the sacking of Trump debunkers as designed to boost government ad revenue and snag an interview with Trump. This is essentially what recently happened at The Japan Times…
    http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2019/02/12/media-ethics-betrayed-in-japan/

    • I’m glad to see this. The way he was treated by the brown shirts at Japan Times was appalling.

  • Louis Carlet says:

    I would like to talk about Japan Times’s rightward shift, particularly the effective spiking of Hifumi’s column
    . When you have time…

    • AnonymousOG says:

      Just FYI for new readers: Louis Carlet is a rightfully-well-respected-for-his-character-and-actions friend of Debito’s, and I for one would very much love to have the chance to ponder any thoughts and insights which Mr. Carlet would be kind enough to freely share here at Debito.org. Much respect and gratitude. 🙂

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