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Japan: Looking back on 2008

Categories: East Asia, Japan, Citizen Media, Economics & Business, Ideas, Media & Journalism, Technology

The last year in Japan saw, among other things, an economic crisis [1], employment instability [2], and the beginnings of the collapse of journalism [3]. While the year was already recapped here last month [4], 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 [5] (see the GV article about last year's event [6]):


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.


[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.)


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 [7] [ja] by Osamu Higuchi about Google's new Street View service (see Global Voices post [8]), an article by blogger boiledema [9] [ja] about Toyota's Just-in-Time system (see Global Voices post [10]), and an article by blogger mkusunok [11] 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 [12]:


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.



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 [13] [ja] started by Uchida Tatsuru [14] [ja] and Dan Kogai [15] [ja] on the question of whether Japan will become a more “inward-looking country” this year:


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 [14]:


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:


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.


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.


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.