Since it exploded on the Japanese Internet less than two months ago, the scandal at Mainichi surrounding the newspaper's former weekly English-language column “WaiWai” has taken on epic proportions in the Japanese media industry. Published for many years on the English version of their website (Mainichi Daily News), WaiWai featured some of the most scandalous (and largely fabricated) articles from Japan's weekly tabloids, translated to English with added “embellishments” by Australian editor Ryann Connell. Over the years WaiWai built up a faithful following of readers from across the world, all the while apparently little known among ordinary Japanese, largely for the reason that WaiWai did not appear in the Japanese version of the newspaper.
Old WaiWai articles unearthed and posted at 2ch (original thread)
This situation changed starting in April of this year, when WaiWai crossed the language barrier (apparently via a post by blogger mozu [ja]) and was picked up on 2ch [Japan's largest bulletin board], where it sparked a huge reaction, among other things inspiring the creation of two sites [ja] dedicated to documenting its track record. Although Mainichi issued an official apology on June 25th — responding to sentiment among many in Japan that WaiWai was degrading the country's image abroad — the company later announced that it would sue people on 2ch, adding fuel to the flames. More recently, it was discovered that the WaiWai history stretches back further than the 9 years claimed by Mainichi, adding further insult to injury among Mainichi's critics. Meanwhile, the range of targets has recently broadened with Japan Times now also under fire [ja] for its publication of “Tokyo Confidential“, a column in much the same vein as WaiWai.
While much has been written about the scandal of WaiWai and its deeper implications, the duration and intensity of attacks on one of Japan's largest national newspapers has surprised almost everybody. The third part (see also parts one [ja] and two [ja]) in a series of blog entries by ENOTECH consulting CEO and blogger Michi Kaifu (海部美知), posted at her blog Tech Mom from Silicon Valley on August 13th, provides a possible hint at what it is that is driving the longevity of the anti-WaiWai campaign.
In the post, titled “Acknowledgment that the problems at Mainichi are a problem of sexual harassment” [毎日新聞問題は「セクハラ問題」であるとの認識], she writes:
The [WaiWai] incident has dragged on so long at this point that within Mainichi Newspaper — and in articles on the Internet as well — there is a conspiracy theory going around which [attributes the incident to] political fixers pulling the strings behind the scenes. Well, I agree, [there are political fixers]. But who are they, you ask? They are [Japan's] housewives.
There are various different things in the series of perverted [hentai] articles, but of all the subjects featured often [in WaiWai], the one that best characterizes the series is the theme of “mother and son”. There is a saying from Japanese classics of the Showa era, “Your mother is an outie [belly button]”, but in English the words used to put down “your mother” have a far greater impact than “outie” — they're the most vulgar terms of all, fighting words that arouse anger in the person you are speaking to. When you write something to the effect of “all Japanese housewives are stupid sluts like this”, and then deliver this [message] to the whole world, you are basically asking for a fight. In the case of a personal blog or adult [porn] site, you can at least just ignore [the content], but this is a newspaper that at one time was called one of the “three large newspapers” in Japan. And on top of that, this did not just happen one time. Tons and tons of these sickening articles have piled up. There's no way that mothers would not get furious about this.
In the interest of disclosing all information, I should mention here that I myself am a Japanese mother with a son of my own. The men who are angry about this problem tend to focus on the point that “embarrassing (and in reality completely untrue) information about Japan was spread to the whole world in English”. In the case of women, however, this is topped off by feelings of “sickening gut-wrenching disgust at the contents of the articles, and an anger sparked by the sense of having been directly insulted”. I myself feel exactly this way.
According to the Matome site [site
collecting information about the WaiWai scandal], it was women who first sent mails to Mainichi about the articles that later become the source of all the recent problems, protesting that these articles were distasteful. Even though they had not actually been touched or threatened, the contents of these articles were extremely revolting to women, and so they treated them in the same way as they would treat someone hanging a poster of a nude woman [on the wall] of their workplace — as sexual harassment. Mainichi ignored this, and this is why the company came off looking to these women as a bunch of “old men indifferent to sexual harassment”, smugly saying to them: “Well now, deary, it's no big deal is it? Make such a fuss about this and you won't make a good bride, will you? Haha.”
抗議行動が盛り上がったのは、２ちゃんねるの中でも「既婚女性板」*1というものらしい。また、今回、毎日の公表した自己調査の結果が間違っていた、という 11年前の新聞記事という物証を図書館のマイクロフィルムから探し出してきたのも、この板の住人だそうで、すなわち「主婦」だろう。*2 *3 毎日新聞に広告を掲載している、数多くの日用品・食品・自動車・保険・携帯電話・書籍・・・などなどの会社の大事なお客様であり、家庭の財布の紐をにぎっている「主婦」なのである。
On 2ch as well, the place where the protests apparently really picked up steam was on the “married women [bulletin board]” [既婚女性板
] [*1]. The ones who dug up the evidence that results announced in Mainichi's internal investigation were incorrect — newspaper articles from 11 years ago out of library microfilm collections — were apparently also from the same bulletin board, i.e. they were probably housewives. [*2] [*3] These same “housewives” hold the strings to the household wallet, and are extremely valued as customers of companies selling countless different products — from convenience goods, to food products, to automobiles, to insurance, mobile phones, books … — commodities whose advertisements appear on the pages of Mainichi newspaper.
My feeling is that in the heads of the people who “run the show” at Mainichi, there is an image of “Kimo-Ota NEET guys” [creepy otaku NEET
guys] as being the ones who are calling up the advertising companies and questioning their actions. In actual fact, though, the truth would seem to be that it is these housewives [who are doing this]. At the very least, seems to me that it is the actions of these women and mothers, a whole lot of whom are really pissed off, that can cause some real damage.
Mainichi newspaper makes a point in the “apology” they issued of mentioning how they “[brought] shame upon Japan…”, and apologize [for this], but the text does not read like a sincere apology to the mothers and women of society acknowledging that [the newspaper] “committed acts of sexual harassment for which they should be extremely ashamed”. Looking at the sequence of events up to the present time, [Mainichi] looks like it's worrying only about “responding to the ‘matsuri’ [literally “festival”(祭り), see note] on the Internet”, without any reflection at all on the core issue: the fact that “this problem is something which originated in your very own company, from a consciousness and system of sexual harassment through which males dominate over women.” It comes off instead as something like: “Well, it was bad that they were written in English, and that they were kind of vulgar. But hey, it was a joke, so just give us a break!” This is why the women's wrath has gone so far.
[Note: ‘matsuri’ (“festival”) is a term used in this context to describe attacks against Mainichi coordinated through e.g. online bulletin boards.]
While this issue has the pattern of “Net versus Old Media”, it also seems to me a case of a classic “sexual harassment problem”. As I wrote the day before yesterday, most ordinary companies are keenly aware of the flak they will get from the media if a “sexual harassment problem” crops up. In this sense as well, there is also the classic problem of “media risk”. Certainly if there was no Internet, this issue would not have been exposed to the degree that it has been, and [this problem] must be handled in a way that is different from the way in which media risk was dealt with in the past. However, ordinary companies are fighting every day not only with the mass media, but also with the risk of ‘matsuri’ by 2-channelers. It is not so long ago that Sony was in hot water over its “fake blog” [see note
]. The environment that Mainichi finds itself in is not unique to Mainichi. I will state it again: I believe that the root of the problem comes down to the “common sense of ordinary corporations”.
[Note: more about Sony's fake blog.]
If I can offer one piece of advice to people in other media [companies] who are freaking out over this [WaiWai] incident, it would be to “appoint more women to management”, or at least to “listen to the views of women in your company”. (For all of those who “run the show” at Mainichi, I myself am a blogger and just one of “that crowd”, and moreover I am now also one of those “housewives” that have become their enemies as well, so in any case I doubt they will listen to me anyway.) Take this as just one of many other lessons to be learned.
*1 : Abbreviated as the “demoness” [“kijo”/鬼女] board. [This is a play on words. The character 鬼 means “demon”, but has the same sound as the 既 (ki) in 既婚 (kikon, “married”).]
*2 : Of course, they are anonymous, so it could be that they were just pretending to be housewives.
*3 : There are also reports of a different source, the bulletin board of single women [独身女性の板] or “poison women” [“dokujo”/毒女]. [This is another play on words. The character 毒 means “poison”, but has the same sound as the 独 (doku) in 独身 (dokushin, “single”).]
*4 : The gender of the people calling up companies is not included at the Matome Wiki
, so this is just my own guess.
For those who can read Japanese and are looking for more background on the WaiWai affair, be sure to check out the two-part series of blog posts by former Mainichi journalist Toshinao Sasaki posted at CNET Japan: part 1 [ja] and part 2 [ja].
Update: There's an earlier blog entry on this topic at Fusou Note which I missed in writing this post, highly recommended.
Thanks to Taku Nakajima for the suggestion to translate this article.