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Japan: To Japanese women, WaiWai was sexual harassment

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
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:

毎日新聞内で「これほど事件が長引くのは、陰で糸を引いている黒幕がいるからでは」との陰謀説がささやかれている、というネット記事もあるようだが、そう、いると私は思う。誰かというと、「主婦」である。

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.

一連の変態記事にはいろいろあるが、一番代表的なものとしてよく挙げられるのが、「母親と息子」の話である。「おまえのかーちゃん、でべそ」という昭和古典の言いまわしがあるが、英語で「おまえのかーちゃん」をけなす言葉というのは、「でべそ」をはるかに上回るインパクトをもつ、最も下品で相手の怒りを誘うけんか用語である。「日本の母親というのは、すべからくこのようにアホで淫乱である」かのごとく、英語で書かれて世界に発信されては、けんかを売られたのと同じ。これが、個人のブログやアダルトサイトならまだ無視のしようがあるが、日本でかつては「三大紙」と言われた新聞。それも、これ一回ではない。他にも、いっぱいいっぱい、気持ちの悪い記事が並んでいる。おかあさんたちが、怒らないわけはない。

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.

念のためここで情報を開示しておくと、私自身も、息子をもつ日本人の母親である。この問題に対して、怒っている男性は、おもに「(実際にはありもしない)日本の恥を英語で撒き散らした」ことがポイントだと思うが、女性の場合、これに「記事の中身そのもに対し、吐き気がするほどの生理的嫌悪感と、自分たちを直接侮辱されたような怒り」を覚えるという点が上乗せされるだろう。それは、私も同じである。

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.

まとめサイトによると、事件の初期の頃、火種となった問題記事に対して、不快であるとして毎日に抗議のメールを送ったのは女性であった。女性にとってはきわめて不快な内容の記事なのだから、たとえ直接相手に触ったり脅したりしていなくても、職場に女性のヌードポスターを貼ったらセクハラ、というのと同じレベルのセクハラ行為なのだ。毎日はこれを無視したわけだが、それは女性から見れば「まー、いーじゃないの、○○チャン、こんなことぐらいで騒ぐと、お嫁にいけなくなるよー。わはは。」などとのたまう「セクハラに無頓着なオジサン」という構図に見える。

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.

毎日の「君臨派」の頭の中では、広告スポンサー企業に電凸している人々は、「ニートのキモヲタ男」のイメージじゃないかという気がするのだが、実はその実態は「奥様方」なんじゃないだろうか。少なくとも、相当の数の「女性」「お母さん」たちが本気で怒っていて、本当にダメージのある行動をしているのはこの方たちなんじゃないか、と私には思える。*4

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.

そして、毎日新聞の「お詫び」文面を読む限り、「日本の恥を・・・」という点については一応言及して謝っているけれど、世のお母さんや女性たちに対し、「きわめて恥ずべきセクハラ行為を行った」という認識をもって、それを真摯に詫びているようには読めない。現在に至るまでの経緯を見ても、もっぱら「ネット上の『祭り』に対する対応」ばかりを気にして、そもそもの問題は「+自分の会社の男尊女卑的セクハラ意識・体制から発したものである+」というコトの本質を全く反省していないように見える。相変わらず、「英語で書いたのと、ちょっと下品だったのは悪かったけどねー。まー、ジョークだからさ、大目にみてや。わはは。」と言っているように聞こえる。だから、彼女たちの怒りは収まらない。

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.]

この件は「ネットと旧メディア」構図でもあると同時に、伝統的な「セクハラ問題」でもあると思う。一昨日書いたように、普通の企業では、自社で「セクハラ問題」が起きたら、どれほどメディアに叩かれるかを骨身にしみて知っている。その意味でも、伝統的な「メディア・リスク」問題でもある。確かに、ネットがなければここまで暴かれることはなかっただろうし、過去のメディア・リスクとは対応も違わなければならない。しかし普通の企業も、既存メディアだけでなく、「ねらー」による「祭り」のリスクとも日々戦っている。ソニーが「ヤラセブログ」でひどい目にあったのは記憶に新しい。置かれた環境は、毎日だけが特別ではない。繰り返すが、問題の根本は、「普通の企業としての常識」というところにある、と思うのだ。

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.]

この件で震え上がっている他の既存メディアの方々に、私から一つアドバイスできることがあるとしたら、「もっと女性を幹部に登用しなさい」、あるいは少なくとも「社内で女性の意見に耳を傾けなさい」ということだろう。(毎日の「君臨派」の皆様から見ると、ブロガーである私は「あの連中」の一人であり、かついまや敵となった主婦の一人でもあるから、聞いてもらえないだろうけれど。)他にもたくさんある教訓の一つ、として。

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.

Notes:

*1:略称「鬼女」板。

*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:もちろん、匿名なので主婦を騙っているだけかもしれないが。

*2 : Of course, they are anonymous, so it could be that they were just pretending to be housewives.

*3:別のソースでは「毒女」=独身女性の板、との情報もあり。

*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:まとめWikiでは、電凸実行者の性別はわからないので、この点は私の推測である。

*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.

13 comments

  • BEA

    “Largely fabricated”+ “Japanese don’t”= Untrue. Is it me or does this stuff really add up? I mean think about it, just because it seems unbelievable does it really mean that it is 100% untrue. I do admit that most stories were down right lies or at least .25% to 50% pure fabrication. An exaggerated truth if you will. Their are dozens of Gossip magazines that aren’t connected to Mainichi or Japantimes that are written completely in Japanese(it took me hours to get through even one page) that had just as ackward situation as the Japanese complain the WaiWai or Japantimes have in their news papers, but yet no Japanese feel obligated to stop the circulation of these Gossip Mags. I wonder why that is. Can it be that perhaps they didn’t want the gossip/ 1/2 truths to reach outside the borders of Japan by gaijin. I think that is a theory that should be addressed.

    Should we in the US and other English using countries limit our gossip to our borders? I don’t think that anyone would actually try to hide something that may be a half truth. I think that we would at least explain to the person what part is the truth and what part is fabricated. That or explain why it is a lie.

    Or it could just be bottled up grievences that were not expressed until know, but my question is Why after 6 years was it time to shut down WaiWai? It makes no sense that the Japanese wouldn’t cancel it sooner. Also, if you notice that one the one that got fired recently by Mainichi( I believe) was at the head of each protest. That seems a bit suspicious to me. WaiWai was a great bit of entertainment, though not believable. ….Sigh

  • AA

    BEA:

    We can’t all be perverts like yourselves – who pervert the truth for their own sick entertainment.

  • klimmer

    Not to mention – does not kids reading violent mangas and salarymen reading porn and sports rags on trains constitute sexual harassment? Making only women wear office lady uniforms – isnt that sexual harassment? The list goes on.

    In the final analysis, it’s just a bunch of otaku going – this is OK in Japan and Japanese, but not OK for non-Japanese. No foreigner is the least bit bothered or offended by WaiWai. I’d be very surprised if anyone took these articles at face value.

  • klimmer

    AA,

    I don’t recall WaiWai causing any permanent damage or inciting a war because of some article.
    WaiWai articles have no truth to it, hence no truth was perverted. The name itself WaiWai (meaning crooked 歪) should have clued you in on the value of the contents.

  • @BEA:

    See: Matthew Moore, “Japanese newspaper admits infamous sex column was untrue“, The Telegraph, July 22, 2008.

  • Chris, I don’t think that article really contradicts what BEA is saying. Sure, a lot of the stuff which Mainichi reprinted was untrue. But it was all sourced from Japanese tabloids — as they were careful to note in each article — so it’s not like this stuff wasn’t being circulated to the local audience as well.

    The core objection here, I think, is that the people reading this stuff overseas are not familiar enough with Japan to recognize that these articles are likely to be very exaggerated or outright false. Most people reading this stuff through the likes of Fark and Digg don’t know what a weekly magazine is in Japan, any more than a typical Japanese person would understand the distinction between USA Today, the National Enquirer and the Weekly World News.

    Sure, there are some participants in the argument who want to sanitize Japan’s image to the world, which is not really a good or ethical thing. But I don’t think that’s really the main point of the arguments against Mainichi. The real anger comes from the fact that the message was transmitted in a way that misled the audience as to what it meant: people were buying the stories as true.

    Now, I agree with BEA when it comes to one question. Why are the housewives showing anger at Mainichi for “sexual harassment,” but not at the trashy magazines who published this crap in the first place? I’m not saying that one was necessarily more virtuous than the other here — just that if one is worthy of scorn based solely on the attitude behind the content, the other should be just as worthy of scorn.

  • Hi Joe,

    Thanks for your comment. Actually I think I didn’t really understand the point that BEA was making in the first part of their comment… but in any case my point was just to establish that my use of “largely fabricated” was sourced (should have included that link in the article).

    In terms of the double standard of charging Mainichi with “sexual harassment” but not the trashy magazines, it’s again a difference between a national newspaper that “everybody” reads (in Japan), and a weekly specifically targeting a particular audience. It’s a bit like someone hanging the poster of the naked women in their private room (trashy tabloids which can be ignored), as opposed to hanging it on the wall of the office (shared space everybody uses). Mainichi is a national newspaper, hence it is seen to correspond to the latter in this analogy. Not sure whether that’s a valid analogy when you’re talking about the English version (different audience, different context etc.), but that’s the thinking behind this.

    Michi Kaifu commented in English on the “disclaimer” issue in a separate post (original in English):

    The problem is that people do not read such disclaimers. Japanese readers would dismiss it a total nonsense by looking at the source, but from the eyes of English speakers who don’t know Japan very well, it is a part of a Japanese national newspaper and one of the small amount of English information about Japan. It can be very misleading for them. It could get away if it were a part of the original stupid tabloids or Conell’s personal blog, but since it is a part of mainichi.co.jp domain, it is clearly inescapable.

    To take up what BEA hints at though, I’ve heard as well that this is not only about WaiWai — there were apparently a lot of “bottled up grievences that were not expressed” before this all came out. So in this sense the “sexual harassment” card is maybe being overplayed here — this is not exclusively about WaiWai.

  • […] Another story is about a scandalous and misogynistic English-language newspaper column in Japan called WaiWai, which has now come to the attention of Japanese-readers. Besides talking about the story, this article translates some Japanese commentary on the subject that would not otherwise be available to an audience in English. Many Japanese women consider the abusive stories and language in this column sexual harassment. […]

  • We’re translating this post for GVO Italian, and it struck me how WaiWai columns could be misleading for Italians who have no or little clue about Japan media environment & culture

    I think we cannot stress enough that, as Michi Kaifu wrote: “people do not read such disclaimers”, and that for foreigners is dangerously misleading to read such stories published in English by major trusted media companies…

    Thanks, Chris, for the brilliant summary of such complicated issue (again, for non-Japanese audiences)!

  • Hi Bernardo,

    Thanks so much! Sorry for this very late response, I am very grateful for the translation to Italian (and Spanish!). The issue is indeed very complicated… and I have the feeling (for the most part) misrepresented in English. So I’m glad to hear that you found the summary so informative.

    Chris

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