The Sydney Morning Herald on death of Mainichi Waiwai column


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Hi Blog. One more article on how the Internet has turned nasty:

The campaign by anonymous posters to get rid of the English translation service of Japan’s weekly magazines, the Mainichi Shinbun Waiwai column, has been effective. Instead of standing up to anonymous hotheads making death threats, and ironically suppressing the free speech they hold so sacrosanct, they talk about Japan’s image being besmirched internationally (when the information comes from Japanese sources in the first place). By suppressing this media outlet, all they are achieving is keeping the debate domestic and covering up the issues the Weeklies are bringing to the fore. However disgusting the topics the Weeklies can bring up are, the contents are the Weeklies’ responsibility, not the Mainichi’s and not editor Ryann Connell’s. Attack the Weeklies for their contents, not the people who merely translate them.

I find this form of bullying disgusting, and the Mainichi’s caving in appallingly irresponsible. When are people going to learn that Internet bullying is not a fair fight, and ignore people who won’t make themselves public in the media and open themselves up to the same scrutiny they demand other media? You have the right to know your accuser. Those who won’t reveal their identity should be justly ignored themselves.

Here’s an article from The Sydney Morning Herald. Further links and a letter to the Mainichi follows it. Arudou Debito in Sapporo


Japan rails at Australian’s tabloid trash
Justin Norrie, The Sydney Morning Herald, July 5, 2008

NOT SO long ago Ryann Connell, an Australian journalist, happily declared he was doing his “dream job” in Japan.

Since accepting police protection against incensed Japanese patriots last week, the chief editor of the English website of The Mainichi Daily News has been more circumspect.

In the past month the 39-year-old has become one of the most reviled figures in Japan, where thousands of posters have flooded chat sites to decry the “sleazy Australian journalist” whom they feel has deliberately besmirched Japan’s image around the world.

Connell’s troubles began in May with one of his now infamous WaiWai columns, which cited a Japanese magazine article about a restaurant in the Tokyo district of Roppongi where patrons allegedly have sex with animals before eating them. The piece caught the attention of a blogger called Mozu, whose angry post was soon picked up by 2channel, a massive, fractious web forum popular with Japan’s hot-headed conservative element.

There it triggered an explosion of bile and culminated in a co-ordinated attack on Connell, his family, The Mainichi and its sponsors, some of which have pulled advertising estimated to be worth more than 20 million yen ($195,000).

The Mainichi, whose Japanese-language newspaper has the fourth-highest circulation in the world, has issued a remarkable 1277-word explanation and apology. It has also terminated the column, reprimanded several staff and put Connell on three months’ “disciplinary leave”.

When contacted this week, Connell said he was unable to comment on “any aspect of the case”. But the Herald understands he has received several death threats and is under strict police instructions to stay inside his suburban Tokyo home until the matter dies down.

Since he began contributing to the newspaper in 1998, Connell has trawled Japan’s smut-filled weekly magazines to bring mostly unsourced tales of the utterly shocking and often improbable to the English-speaking world.

Many previous WaiWai instalments – such as the story about mothers who pleasure their sons to stop them from chasing girls at the expense of schoolwork, the article about chikan (men who grope women on trains) holding monthly meetings to trade tips about the best ways to surreptitiously manhandle fellow passengers, and the account of emotionally stunted salarymen who use lifelike mannequins as surrogate wives – have entered world folklore.

“Campus Confidential: Co-eds Collect Currency Conducting Extra-curricular Coitus” began one of Connell’s recent columns, all of which are transcribed from Japanese before being rendered – with creative licence and brain-melting alliteration – in the style of the raciest British tabloid stories.

It is their popularity with some Western readers that has especially incensed Japanese bloggers. Many feel their country’s reputation has been “debauched” around the world. “Foreigners who don’t know the truth will believe these stories are true,” wrote one. Another railed: “Ryann Connell is a degenerate scatologist – a typical Australian.” And a third wondered: “Why doesn’t someone drop a hydrogen atom bomb on Australia?”

In an interview with the Herald late last year Connell admitted his transcriptions might have contributed in part to a lazy notion that if Japanese are not totally inhibited by their strict social codes, they are hopelessly debased by their bizarre fetishes.

“It does concern me that we resort to these stereotypes all the time,” he said. “Downtrodden salarymen, slutty schoolgirls, crazy housewives, corrupt old bosses and so on. And there have been times when I picked stories of questionable accuracy to write up. But by and large I’m presenting to the English-speaking world things that the Japanese are writing about themselves.”


Defending the weeklies, as well as Connell and his collaborators, is the unflagging media critic and campaigner for human rights Debito Arudou, who wrote that WaiWai was an essential guide to Japanese attitudes and editorial directives. “Too many Japanese believe that they can say whatever they like in Japanese (‘that statement was for a domestic audience’ is very often an excuse for public gaffes), as though Japanese is some secret code,” he wrote.


To the editors of the Mainichi Shinbun:
Please don’t end the Waiwai column.

The claim on your website ( that this corner “attracted criticism for such things as being too vulgar and debauching Japan by sending around the world information that could be misunderstood” is sophistry, merely an attempt by people who would rather Japan’s Weekly Magazines not reach reach a wider audience.

As you know from your experience as a translator of these articles, they offer a very important window into the lowbrow and the undercurrents of Japanese society. Closing it is worse than simple prudery–it is an aggressive act of censorship by people who want the outside world to think of Japan as a place of cherry blossoms and chrysanthemums. It’s a dishonest view of any society to only focus on the “nice”.

Please reconsider. Edit for content if you must. But remain accurate and faithful to the original (as you no doubt usually have), and don’t give in to these reactionaries. The tabloid press is every bit as important as any other press in Japan.


Thanks for your consideration.
Arudou Debito in Sapporo
June 24, 2008


Further discussion of this issue on Japan Probe:

Announcement of end of Waiwai column.

Mainichi “posed to severely punish” employees.

Mainichi Shinbun announces “lack of a woman’s point of view”, appoints woman editor, switches to “news-oriented site”.

16 comments on “The Sydney Morning Herald on death of Mainichi Waiwai column

  • I feel sorry for Ryann Connell, he does not deserve the attack on him. Mainichi I feel does need to take some responsibility. I think it was not so clever in terms of it being a “smart business decision” to draw up a contract with WaiWai who translates such lewd content for a newspaper that is supposed to be serious about its content. Much of the outrage is directed at a newspaper with a seeminlgy high reputation, publishing such content. This begs the question why is Ryann Connell taking the fall and taking the blame and not the people who made the poor business decision?

    I was looking at Mixi (popular Japanese networking site) when this hit the media. It generated about over 1000 very angry posts in under an hour. Now there are several blog sites up about WaiWai column’s material and how insulting it is to the Japanese.

    I agree with your comment about some Japanese thining Japanese is some sort of “secret code”.

  • First off, death threats are wrong. There’s no way to condone that kind of behavior.

    That being said, there are a few things that require clarification.

    There was a group of people that protested in front of the Mainichi headquarters which means that not everyone against the WaiWai was anonymous. They were even featured on a morning variety show and people attending the protests were interviewed. You can see a video of that here.

    From what I understand, there has been anger over the WaiWai articles for around 9 years, but it was only until the right wing element got involved that the movement picked up steam – and more threatening for that matter.

    The articles in question are also apparently not direct translations, but very loose translations of the original source materials, and made to sound more scandalous.


    I personally feel the WaiWai articles were a joke and that they weren’t harming anyone – despite what the 2-chan crowd was saying. However, protesting against Mainichi, demanding the articles be removed and pressuring sponsors to pull advertising are exactly the steps that consumers can take to deal with something they don’t like. This is strongest form of activism – controlling the flow of money. The truly sad part of these protests is that they were a two-headed dragon – there was the consumer advocate side and the right-wing fanatical side. If they removed the right-wing side there would have been less enthusiasm to start the protests, but people would have also taken them more seriously.

    At the same time, while I could care less about WaiWai, there has been a tremendous focus on the image of wacky Japan in mainstream Western media, and WaiWai probably wasn’t helping. Just for example, just this past week, CNN and TIME magazine have both been running articles about the booming elderly porn industry in Japan. Both articles hit the front page of their respective websites, and both articles topped the list of most read article the week they were posted. This kind of rubbish is just horribly irresponsible journalism, and I can almost guarantee that you would be hard pressed to find anyone in Japan who actually knew of this trend.

    Also, for a second example, Shunsuke Nakamura has been getting harassed by Celtic rivals because a a British journalist misinterpreted a survey about Japanese people to believe that they all eat dog food. This was discussed on Japan Probe.

    I’ll say it a thousand times – nothing condones death threats. But I would like to know why Mainichi didn’t spend more time translating their Japanese language news and editorials. This would have served a much better purpose and would have caused much less controversy. Plus, if Mainichi would like to consider themselves a respectable publication this would have been the right thing to do in the first place. I would never expect the Washington Post or LA Times to translate tabloids for their readership, so is it too much to expect the same thing from Mainichi?

    –Thanks for the balance. And before anyone says I’m going easy on journalists regarding Japan, I’ve written some articles criticizing the phenomenon of the “three e’s” (economics, exotica, and erotica) that have made up the bulk of human-interest (and even some hackery posing as serious journalism) expat media stories on Japan. Click here:

  • You know why I already knew this? Because several weeks ago, WaiWai column suddenly discontinued and Minichi News issued “Notice of Apology” online. I read it…their rationality was based on the mere assumption that “the material depicting the negative image of “some Japanese” will demean the “whole” Japan.

  • I personally am glad that the WaiWai column is gone, simply because its placement alongside real news (on a URL of a major newspaper to boot) was an open invite to mass misinformation concerning Japan by visitors who were unlikely to follow through and educate themselves as to the source of these articles. Imagine a New York Times website that included translated items from the Weekly World News without the proper context, and I’d be writing angry letters to the Times myself.

    However, I admit that I occasionally read the WaiWai as entertainment because I came to understand how totally trashy the source material was. That, and I was particularly fascinated by whoever managed to concoct the English-language versions of what must have been pretty sleazy Japanese. I think it’s a real shame that the English author is somehow being punished for all this, and I sincerely hope that the WaiWai is resurrected in the future under a new banner where it is clearly defined as tabloid news.

  • Taking up the Wai Wai chalice sounds like a great business opportunity to me. Did you ever notice how “this week’s top articles” as listed in the little box on the Mainichi site were almost always all Wai Wai articles? Haha. Ryan Connell should take on a different pen name, start his own site, and cash in on the world’s hunger for News of the Odd from the East.

  • Another John says:

    Well, instead of grumbling about the collapse of free speech, why doesn’t someone register (it’s apparently open) and start a dedicated site on transliterations of J tabloids? Register it offshore and, if anyone grumbles, have a standard email reply ready which says something like, “Pardon me, but if you send us your home address, we’ll mail you 10 yen so you can call someone who cares.” I like the idea and I would myself, but my free time is in mega short supply as is and I don’t think I can personally do it justice.

    Come on, did we honestly expect anything different from the Mainichi? Duh. Sorry, but journalists worldwide are capitualating to threats and half-truths left and right. Seriously – do you think that if the US media was doing their job that there would be honest support for the incursion into Iraq? It’s a global thing and the MDN’s cave-in is just symptomatic (and, sadly, expected).

  • I was absolutely appalled when waiwai was removed, and they even went to the extent of apologising for it. I’ve since stopped reading Mainichi.

    I think the fact that every single day the news articles consist of murder, suicides, and paedophiles reflects far worse on the country than some silly side column.

  • I’ve always felt that Japan tends to be way too sensitive about what it deems as ‘outside’ criticism. This is an extreme example of this.

  • WaiWai was not taken down because it was ‘outside’ criticism of Japan. It was taken down because it was a bad editorial decision to run sleaze in a mainstream news outlet in in the first place and the newspaper rightly came under fire, a point that seems to be lost on the idiots who are attacking the Ryan Connell. Journalists will (and should) write about whatever their editorial mandate affords. The ultimate responsibility lies with the editors.

    “I think the fact that every single day the news articles consist of murder, suicides, and paedophiles reflects far worse on the country than some silly side column.”

    You are kidding, right? Have you picked up a newspaper in any other country where the press is free lately?

    Your comment raises an interesting point, however. ‘Perverse’ crime stories from Japan are more often than not reported as a symptom of a ‘sick’ nation in other countries. Yet we don’t see this when perverse crime happens elsewhere. Why didn’t the foreign media present the recent example of perversion in Austria as a result of an Austrian “cultural” trait (such as an obsession with fastidiousness and punctuality?), or the Canadian paedophile who masked his face on the Internet as a product of a nation with a multiple personality disorder? Simply because, as Jake has pointed out, there is a “hunger” for news items that pander to preconceived notions about a strange ‘other’ to which we in the enlightened ‘West’ are superior. In other words, what Said said.

    The Mainichi was irresponsible because it played to those prejudices and reinforced them. No wonder the domestic wingnuts (and not a few moderate Japanese) went crazy. It then made the right decision to take the column off the web, but, instead of sticking up for the author by taking responsibility as an organisation it has used him as a scapegoat. For that, not for some trumped up accusations about freedom of speech, they deserve all the criticism that can be heaped upon them.

  • Big B,

    Do you really think it’s justifyable to call him an “author” of the articles, rather than a “translator”? Author implies that he was a reporter or doing editorials. Was either of those in his job description, I wonder?

  • i completely agree with tony, because the news in japan and elsewhere should not be restricted and censored regardless if it is of a negative nature or not. i think they removed waiwai because it was politcally incorrect, so the choice to stop waiwai was based on government pressure and intimidation (sorry i dont have a spell checker), remember when the GOJ pressured and pushed NHK to announce anti-north korean propaganda regarding the abduction issues, well this is the same kind of situation only in reverse..and it stops freedom of the press..and remember when the GOJ forced NHK to stop the comfort woman documentary,..again same situation

  • “Do you really think it’s justifyable to call him an “author” of the articles, rather than a “translator”?”

    It’s really debatable that Connell was a “translator” as he did inject a lot of his own material. “Transliterator”, perhaps? In any case, it is irrelevant to my point. Let’s just call him Ryan.

    “news in japan and elsewhere should not be restricted and censored”

    Jim, this case has nothing to do with censorship, in its usual sense of government prerogative to order restrictions on the release of information. Mainichi has editorial powers over its own content. It exercised them. If the content is something that Ryan believes is important or he agress with debito that his stories “offer a very important window into the lowbrow and the undercurrents of Japanese society” he can put them online without sanction. As Jake notes, the same old orientalist hacks who “hunger for News of the Odd from the East” can find inspiration for their stories there.

    This has pretty much nothing to do with government pressure on the NHK over the comfort women issue or the “anti-North Korea propaganda” (The latter issue, by the way, was restricted to government direction of NHK world, a source that most Japanese don’t see. Most governments with state broadcasters, including, I believe, the British Government and BBC, retain the right to direct their editorial content in programmes intended for overseas transmission).

    The NHK scandal deservedly caused significant public outcry among Japanese and resulted in high-level resignations and a lost court case. NHK also suffered financial difficulties when subscribers refused to pay their fees. Widespread non-payment of fees started after corruption scandals within the corporation were revealed, but increased dramatically after the comfort women incident.
    In the end over a million households refused to pay. This meant that NHK lost around half a BILLION dollars in revenue.

    The point is that Abe’s idiocy was uncovered and lambasted. Hardly a reaction you would see in a nation with a government that censors its news strictly. The courts, which are part of the governmental structure and have often been criticised here and elsewhere for reluctance to take on their political “masters”, even ruled against NHK.

    –Hi Bryce. You forgot to put in a fake email address this time (although you’ve gotten pretty far after changing your IP to a different country). You’re still somebody I banned a few months ago. Pity. Once you changed your persona you made some good arguments. I guess I should be honored in a sense that you think is an important enough forum to go through all this trouble to get around your ban. But you still use all the tactics of the garden-variety Internet troll and spammer, one of which is being willfully deceptive about who you are. Too bad. A person like you in your position as a NZ academic should know and behave better. Go do it on another forum. A ban is a ban.

    If I find you sock puppeting here again, I will reveal here your full name, email, and all of your IPs. Be advised. Somebody has to be done about people like you who take too much advantage of the weaknesses of the Internet. Bye.

  • Hi, just a minor point. The link is to “The Sydney Morning Herald”, not “The Australian.” They are different papers owned by different people. (The Australian = Murdoch, The SMH = not Murdoch.)

    Here’s an article from *The Sydney Morning Herald* newspaper. Further links and a letter to the Mainichi follows it. Arudou Debito in Sapporo


    Japan rails at Australian’s tabloid trash
    Justin Norrie, *The Sydney Morning Herald*, July 5, 2008

    –Not a minor point at all. I apologize for the error and will rectify. Arudou Debito

  • Well, if someone else comes up with (or something similar) I’m sure lots of people will love to know.

    Of course, there should be a disclaimer that it’s probably 99% nonsense. But still, entertainment is entertainment!


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