Thursday, February 22, 2007


Kinokuniya: One Stop Shop for Lolitas?

I wrote last year how Kinokuniya in New York had reorganized its shelves to give priority shelf space to manga and anime. I also wrote how I'd once sat in a meeting with Japanese book publishers who talked about the growing interest of western youths in this Japanese export.


So, what do we make of this display? I went back to Kinokuniya just last week and found even more reorganizing; DVDs are now front and center. And then, just inside the door, was Shonen Jump along with . . . costumes.

I think it's a smart move. The second floor of Kinokuniya has always had "traditional Japanese gifts," which are generally along the lines of what JP refers to as being of the "tea and temple" variety; wrapping paper, washi mobiles, incense burners. But it appears that someone has gotten smart and has started to introduce some of the new obsessions the west has with Japan. How long before Kinokuniya notices that the Japanese grocery stores in NYC are renting out videos for homesick expats and ventures into the rental business? And then, of course, there is the new Uniqlo with its T-shirts and J-pop section. How long until we start to see some Japanglish shirts on the walls of the venerable bookstore?

First posted at Japundit where you can read the comments.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007


But Is It Censorship?

The Australian journalist Ben Hills has written a book about Princess Masako and her troubles in the Japanese Royal Family. All of you who follow my blog and read Japundit pretty much know my feelings about her situation. You can get a refresher if you need to by doing some last minute reading, but basically her treatment within the royal family--and the sudden switch in who will become the future leader of the imperial family (hint: it's a boy and not a girl)--has me thinking twice about women's rights in Japan. Actually, it has me rethinking what it means to be free and have rights in the first place, but that's another conversation and a much longer story.

News came this week that Kodansha, that Japanese publisher of Princess Masako, has decided to suspend publication in Japan. This, supposedly, is due to a number of "factual errors" contained in the book.

But is that the real reason? To be honest, it smells an awful lot like censorship to me. When Iris Chang's groundbreaking book , The Rape of Nanking. was also "not published" in Japan, the main reason given was that Chang had been "factually innaccurate." Remember, this was said about a book that probed the rape of Nanking in which hundreds of thousands of Chinese were murdered by the Japanese. So, was it censorship, or was it a desire not to have to deal with an *ahem* unpleasant moment in history? And, for those of you keeping score, yes I know that reparations are tricky between Japan and China--not to mention Japan and Korea--and that this also probably influenced the decision. At any rate, Ben Hills invokes the the spectre of Iris Chang when he speaks out against the the treatment his book has received in Japan.

Interestingly enough, a number of the gaijin readers on Japundit felt very strongly that the book shouldn't have been written and shouldn't have been published because it just "wasn't necessary." (And of course, there were also the people who believe that Masako "deserves" this intrusive treatment and others who believe that no westerner should ever comment on Japan. Right. Okay. So, where does that leave someone like me?). My reaction to these claims actually surprised me. I'm often the one at a party or on the subway who wishes that people just had better manners, or who laments that we have to have conversations about the "n" word, because I wish we could just generally be more decent to each other. I wish we weren't so celebrity obsessed and trying to so hard to intrude on the privacy of others.

And yet, in this case, I want the book published. If it is indeed full of factual errors, I wish the press would point these out and let the author either defend himself, or go the way of other "journalists" who have been found to have plagiarized, or made up facts in order to promote a quick sell. In other words, I wish that the free speech and its mechanism in all its ugly and uncomfortable pressures could go to town on this thing so we got at the truth.

And that is really what is at the heart of this debate for me; so far, no one has listed the "factual errors"--it isn't clear that we are dealing with a Jason-Blair-type-situation here. So, I asked our faithful Japundit readers to tell me what the "factual errors" were within the book. A reader named So, I Simon says:

Hills states that Japanese gave the late Emperor Hirohito the name of Showa - peace and harmony . He makes a nasty comment how dare they could honor the war criminal Hirohito with ‘peace’ posthumously. The name Showa was chosen by him as the name of the era when he ascended to the throne, not after, just as the current emperor will be known as Heisei Emperor.

He makes a big deal out of the Crown Prince being the first Japanese Royal to study at Oxford. He is not. There are at least three princes before him, two of them also at Oxford. That’s why Japanese Royals are partial to Oxford. Such an easy thing to double check. Many of the errors are minor, but the book is so full of them, it hurts his credibility.
You read the book and see for yourself.

And then there is this very, very intriguing post from someone named Beroca, and which reminds me just how much I LOVE the internet:

well… I could probably get in trouble for talking about this…

but people are NOT terribly happy here at the Embassy. The ‘minister-cousellor’ mentioned by Mr Hills has an understandable headache. The sad fact is that writing the letter and presenting it in person to this guy has only generated insane amounts of publicity for the book, thereby having the opposite effect to what the Imperial Houshold Agency wanted.

I mean, doesn’t someone think these things through? I know it doesn’t happen here at the Embassy, once an order comes through from Tokyo, it is to be obeyed and pity the fool who puts their hand up to say “wait a minute.. maybe this isn’t such a great idea”.

I’ll try an get a copy of the letter, but this is not considered a ‘political’ issue. I will have to visit the ‘cultural’ section.

What is the "letter" to which Beroca refers? Apparently a Japan based reporter, Eric Johnson, says he was misquoted in Hills' book, and wrote a letter to this effect. However, writing and publishing the letter has just generated even more publicity for the book (remember James Frey?) and the cultural minister is apparently in a tizzy.

So, what's the deal? Is Ben Hills a hero for writing a book that no one in Japan would dare do? Or is he just out for the money? Are the Japanese over-reacting? I'd say that all these things are separate.

First, it certainly seems to me that publishing has a real problem with fact-checking when it comes to non-fiction books. I haven't worked in that part of publishing, so it's hard for me to comment on what or how these things should be fixed. But someone ought to have foreseen what would happen here and be prepared to rebut the criticism. Perhaps the "cultural gap" was assumed to provide some protection from mistakes. But the thing is, with the internet, there is no such thing as protection. A look at Amazon reveals most people's gripes.

Second, the book is being censored by some branch of the government. Pure and simple. Face saving measures--which can be wonderful in most social settings--are being employed to hide the fact that the book is "uncomfortable" for the government, and it's easiest to blithely come up with a way for the it be put away.

Third, the only way to know for certain if the book is solid or not is to put it out there now for people to read.

Finally, I have to read the book myself to make up my own mind. Stay tuned.

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