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Japan: Looking back on 2008

The last year in Japan saw, among other things, an economic crisis, employment instability, and the beginnings of the collapse of journalism. While the year was already recapped here last month, we add to that recap the reflections of bloggers looking back over the year.

Blogger Motohiko Tokuriki wrote about this year's Alpha Blogger Awards (see the GV article about last year's event):

2004年から毎年続けていたアルファブロガー・アワード(旧:アルファブロガーを探せ)ですが、今年は思いっきり趣向を変えて、ブログ記事大賞ということで、ブログ単位ではなく記事単位の投票で開始しました。

The Alpha Blogger Awards (formerly: Search for Alpha Bloggers) has been held continuously every year since 2004, but this year we are putting our efforts into changing the idea [of the awards], and so this year we will award prizes for blog entries — not at the level of individual blogs but at the level of individual entries.

実は記事単位での投票というのは、最初の2004年のアルファブロガーを探せの時にも試みていた幻の企画です。
 当時は、ただでも無名の企画だったので、ブログ毎の投票を集めるのが精一杯で、記事毎の投票はほとんど有意義な数が集まらず、結果発表すらしなかったという経緯がありました。(その節は、投票頂いた皆さん、本当に申し訳ありませんでした。)

[This isn't in fact the first time] there has been voting at the level of articles; it's a throwback to 2004, where we experimented with the idea at the first Alpha Blogger Awards [“Search for Alpha Bloggers”].
At that time, it was a project without any real name, so we tried very hard to gather votes on each blog, but this didn't add up to a significant number, and there was never any announcement of winners. (Apologies to all of you who voted on that occasion.)

ただ、記事毎の投票をやってみたらという意見は多数いただいていましたし、現在では2004年に比べると、ソーシャルブックマークとかブログ検索とか、1年を振返るためのツールも充実していますし、とにかく一度やってみようということで、実施に至った次第です。

But considering that there were so many people who were interested in voting at the level of articles, and that, compared to 2004, social bookmarking, blog search, and so on — the tools [people] use to look back over the year — had progressed so much, we decided to try it out one time, and so we are having [this style of] awards this year.

Tokuriki-san also picks out the three entries he found most important over the whole year: one article [ja] by Osamu Higuchi about Google's new Street View service (see Global Voices post), an article by blogger boiledema [ja] about Toyota's Just-in-Time system (see Global Voices post), and an article by blogger mkusunok titled “we're hacking politics” [俺達ちゃんと政治もハックしているよ].

Blogger and journalist Hiroyuki Fujishiro wrote about the change in the country's media industry:

金融危機や雇用問題など暗い話題で終わった2008年は既存のマスメディアにとっても厳しい年となりました。これまで指摘されてきた、マスメディアの凋落がついに表面化。新聞、テレビだけでなく広告代理店も厳しい決算となりました。それだけでなく、秋葉原事件、毎日新聞「WaiWai」問題、オーマイニュース失敗など、メディアのあり方に関わる本質的な問題も、さまざまな形で表面化しました。

The year 2008 was a difficult one for the mass media, ending with a gloomy picture of a looming financial crisis and employment problems. The decline of the mass media, signs of which had already been perceptible, at last came to a head. Newspapers and television, as well as advertising companies, all faced tough financial decisions. And as if that wasn't enough, there was also the Akihabara massacre, the “WaiWai” incident at Mainichi Shimbun, the fall of OhmyNews Japan, and fundamental problems in the media, all of which emerged in a variety of different forms.

[…]

「市民メディア」として注目されたオーマイニュースの失敗は、メディアがインフレを起こしている時代に単にメディアを持つだけでは何の意味もないことを明らかにしています。市民メディアに関わる議論では、従来からマスメディアとは異なるメディア(オルタナティブメディア)を持つことに重きを置く議論もありますが、単にオルタナティブメディアを持つだけでなく、何のための、誰のためのメディアなのかを明確にしていかなければ、ただあるだけのメディアになってしまうでしょう。

The fall of OhmyNews, a project which had attracted attention as an example of “citizen media”, made clear that in an era where the landscape of media is expanding, simply being the media alone is no longer significant [in and of itself]. Among the arguments for citizen media, there is one argument that emphasizes that [citizen media] is different from mass media. [But the point is] that it's not just about being a different (alternative) media; without clarifying what and who the media is for, one media is just like any other.

Blogger Nobuo Ikeda, meanwhile, picked up a conversation [ja] started by Uchida Tatsuru [ja] and Dan Kogai [ja] on the question of whether Japan will become a more “inward-looking country” this year:

Dankogai経由で内田樹氏のおもしろい記事を読んだ。結論からいうと、「2009年はたぶん日本は『内向きシフト』舵を切るようになると私は推察している」(原文のまま)という彼の意見に、私も賛成だ。ただ私はこの記事を皮肉だと思ったのだが、どうやら内田氏は本気で内向きがいいことだと信じているらしい。彼はこう書く:

Through Dan Kogai, I learnt about an interesting article by Mr. Tatsuru Uchida. I agree with his view, which can be seen in his conclusion that: “I'm guessing that perhaps this year Japan will make a turn toward ‘looking inwards’.” [quoted verbatim from post] However, although I had thought that his post was meant to be cynical, it seems that he in fact really believes that it's a good thing to look inwards. Here's what he wrote:

Ikeda quotes from Uchida, who writes:

「外向き」になるにはアメリカにはアメリカの、フィンランドにはフィンランドのそれぞれの「お国の事情」というものがある。その切ない事情についてはご配慮して差し上げるべきであろう。だが、わが日本にはせっかく世界でも希なる「内向きでも飯が食えるだけの国内市場」があるのである。そこでちまちまと「小商い」をしていても飯が食えるなら、それでいいじゃないか。

In “looking outwards”, each country has its own respective “national conditions” to take into account: America has its own conditions, just as Finland has its own conditions. I suppose these oppressive conditions should be taken into account. However, in Japan, there is an unusual “domestic market within which people can get by even while they are looking inwards”. If people can make a living with just a small business, then there is nothing wrong with that.

Ikeda then responds:

フィンランドが外向きだというのは正しいが、アメリカは主要国でもっとも内向きの国である。彼らのパスポート保有率は14%で、内向きの日本人(26%)の半分しかない。それより問題は、「内向きでも飯が食える」のかということだ。内田氏の勤務している女子大の学生の授業料を払っているのは彼らの親だが、その所得は日本経済が衰退すれば減ってゆく。

While it is correct to say that Finland is outward-looking, America is actually the most inward-looking of the [world's] major powers. Only 14% of American people hold passports, that's only half the number of people (26%) [who hold passports] in inward-looking Japan. And what is an even greater problem is [the question of whether] “you can make a living while being inward-looking”. The students at the women's university where Uchida works have their tuition fees paid for by their parents; that money will start to dry up if the Japanese economy goes into decline.

そして「内向きでも飯が食えるだけの国内市場」は、どんどん中国や韓国などに侵食されている。たとえばPCの世界市場では、HP、デルに中国のレノボと台湾のエイサーが続き、国内トップの東芝でもわずか4.3%だ。おかげで東芝もソニーも、人員整理を始めている。「ちまちまと小商い」をしても、規模の経済で太刀打ちできないのだ。

And then [there is the issue that] this “internal market within which you can make a living even while looking inwards” is steadily being encroached upon by China and South Korea. In the global market of PCs, for example, China's Lenovo and Taiwan's Acer have followed [in the footsteps of] HP and Dell, with Japan's domestic brand Toshiba at only 4.3%. Both Toshiba and Sony are cutting back on personnel for this reason. So even if you run a “small business”, you can't compete with the economics of scale.

トヨタを筆頭とする輸出産業が総崩れになった日本経済は、結果的には「内向きシフト」をとるだろう。そのためにマイナス成長が続いたら、まっ先にあおりを食うのが私立大学で、すでに半数が定員割れだ。内田氏の勤務する大学がどうかは知らないが、一般論としていえば女子大の経営状況は最悪なので、彼が飯を食えなくなるリスクは、彼が思っているほど小さくない。

Starting with Toyota, Japan's import-export industry is in total collapse, and so I really wonder whether the Japanese economy will take this “shift toward looking inward”. Thus if negative growth continues, it will be the private universities that will suffer the repercussions, [universities] that already have only half their normal enrollment. I'm not sure how it is at the university where Mr. Uchida works, but the economic conditions at women's colleges are generally considered to be terrible, and so the risk that he will no longer be able to make a living [there] is not as small as he thinks.

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