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Japan: A year of blogs

As the character 暑 (sho) meaning ‘hot or heat’ was chosen to represent the year 2010 at the annual ceremony [en] in Kyoto, let's see a selection of “hot topics” that Global Voices covered this year.

Japan's highest mountain, Mount Fuji forms a silhouette behind the Shinjuku business district. Tokyo, Japan. Photo by Nipponnews, © Demotix 14/01/2010.

Earthquake Memories
Just when Japan remembered the fifteenth anniversary of the violent Hanshin earthquake that in 1995 destroyed the areas around Osaka and Kobe killing thousands of people, a similar tragedy hit Haiti.
While 100 students from different countries at the International University of Japan (IUJ), in Niigata Prefecture, expressed their solidarity lighting candle of hope for Haitians, some Japanese bloggers commented on the role of Japan in supporting the hit country and criticized their country's lack of response.

Environmental posers
Never in the world fish species like bluefin tuna, whales and dolphins would have thought to be under the world’s attention like this year. When a ban on the Atlantic Blue-fin Tuna was rejected, Japanese experts reacted against biased media also remarking the importance of sustainable fishing.
After the tuna debate, a more inflamed one on whaling came out when anti-whaling activists hit a Japanese whaler and the New Zealander captain was arrested. Despite a weak rise of nationalistic sentiment, Japanese bloggers questioned the method adopted to protest and said whaling should be regulated.
Not so diplomatic were some groups of right-wing activists, when they threatened theaters who were supposed to screen The Cove, the award-winning documentary on the slaughter of dolphins in Taiji. Intellectuals, journalists and bloggers rose their voices to advocate freedom of expression and the right of people to watch the movie.
Very far from the turmoils in the main islands, the beautiful and tiny Ogasawara Islands submitted as candidates as UNESCO natural world heritage site.

New Media vs Old Media
In 2010, traditional Japanese media, that to many seem now obsolete and of power, have been challenged in many ways and the changes will likely be seen in the coming year as well.
Twitter was at the center of attention, as its 140 character-long-messages were used by important people like former prime minister and were considered an important tool to create a social network and possibly to help prevent suicides.

Although some examples of citizen journalism like Jan Jan had to face reality and close shop, and traditional papers like Nikkei carried out a conservative strategy banning links to its website, new frontiers of journalism showed up, when tech-savvy freelancers began to break down the monopoly in information.
The year then concluded with new ideas and projects: those presented at the annual startup event WISH 2010, and those proposed by Chinese blogger and media activist Michael Anti, who suggested ideas to facilitate understanding between Japan and China.

Employment and Corporate Culture

As Japan bears an ongoing job market slump, which is intertwined with the crumbling of the employment system, roiling emotions and perspectives were captured through a series of articles including coverage of a rare demonstration parade by college students, sage advice from an industry analyst, and buoyant observations about a new breed of NEET. The longstanding corporate culture of Japan Inc continues to be an oft discussed topic in the Japanese blogosphere, such as the rite of passing of becoming a “social being“, alcohol as social lubrication, and the difficulty of taking time off.

Political Ups & Downs
This year, Japanese politics presented a few unexpected turns of events.
As soon as January, the new government elected last fall started to totter when PM Hatoyama hinted at taking back its promises to relocate the US bases outside the Okinawa prefecture: which made clear how the local population lived the problem very differently from those living in the main island, far from the bases.
When the deadline came, in May, the government announced that the relocation project had been annulled and frustrated Okinawa people made their voice heard.
Almost immediately after, the government fell and a new prime minister was elected, letting many voters confused.
Amidst political instability and a looming recession, this summer Japan was officially surpassed by China as the second largest economy in the world. The Japanese people, however, weren’t particularly surprised and kept having faith in their country’s potential.
Last fall was then characterized by international relations on a razor edge, to which Japanese bloggers and their neighbours reacted swiftly. First came the clash between a Chinese fishing boat and a Japanese coastguard by some disputed islands, which ignited a virtual debate between two prominent bloggers, from China and Japan, respectively.
Then came North Korean attack on a South Korean island: the Japanese netizens reflected on the incident and expressed their anxieties.

Society and Culture

The changing values of an increasingly inward-looking society manifested in different ways – bigger trends such as decline of students studying overseas, or individual articles, as a blogger contemplated over slow suicide in an ageing society and another pondered over morals in the context of climbing Mount Fuji.

The historical took a contemporary turn, as a traditional bathing house became the setting of a popular manga, the country went wild over the samurai Ryoma Sakamoto, and the art of monozukuri (“making things”) met DYI and technology. Heritage also perseveres as the Kabuki Theater in Ginza is being rebuilt again and the old capital of Nara greets its 1300th anniversary. And of course, the world celebrated the 30th anniversary of Pacman thanks to Google!

Tomomi Sasaki co-wrote this post

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