Potential of Digital Media: The Case of Japan

I once wrote a running article for the Japanese regional newspaper (where I work) about the first Islamic Mosque in southern part of Japan. The articles were about the story of the struggles and efforts of the Muslims and their communication and collaboration with the local community, where majority of the people there had little idea about Muslims other than the “terrorists” of the 9.11 attack. One day, one of my bosses said to me “your choice of the article topic is unusual.” I took his word in a positive way, but I could see after working for the company for an year that time that not many reporters around me seem to be interested to write stories of the racial/ethnic minorities. It was obvious why the minorities were rarely represented on the paper. Further, they were not only underrepresented. I have been collecting articles related to immigrants from different Japanese news papers, but the articles are more often covering negative problems of them, rather than their success or achievement. We the mass media refuses to See and Hear the voices of minorities, thus they are not given a chance to Speak out.

“Three Wise Monkeys” not Seeing, Hearing, nor Speaking. Yes, it is wise that mass media act as such, since including the voice of minorities can force the traditional way they see the world.

“Three Wise Monkeys” not Seeing, Hearing, nor Speaking. Yes, it is wise that mass media act as such, since including the voice of minorities can force the traditional way they see the world.

Why are immigrants underrepresented? There haven’t been much serious discussion about it, so here are some of my ideas.

Japan have national policies to control the immigrant but there are’t any policies to integrate them as a member of the society. In the first place, there is no clear definition of “immigrant.” (Although it is not that Japan is a racially homogeneous nation. There are indigenous Ainu people, Okinawan, and resident Koreans who came or forced to move to Japan during the World War II. ) However, without seriously discussing about the integration policies or reforming the immigration policies, Japan is encouraging people from overseas to stay in Japan as temporal workers and students in order to complement the market demand. Therefore, the mass media treat them as such, that is, as foreigners who will leave Japan after a while and not worth covering in the news intended to publish for “Japanese.” In addition, since there are only less than 2% of the entire population in Japan is people with foreign citizenship, the mass media do not see the need to represent. I am talking about print media here, so it is not difficult to imagine that the representation of minorities in the digital media is less, as not all the articles published on the print are shared or accessible for everyone on each company’s website.

This is one of the article I wrote to introduce the story of Muslims in Fukuoka, Japan. Unfortunately, this was only published on the print and not shared on the website.

This is one of the article I wrote to introduce the story of Muslims in Fukuoka, Japan. Unfortunately, this was only published on the print and not shared on the website.

If the media representation and its system have to reflect the diversity of the society, as Wilson and Costanza-Chock argue, the current situation of Japan might not to be blamed. However, Metcalfe’s law, discussed in Wilson and Costanza-Chock’s article shows that “as more people join a network, the value they add to the network increases exponentially” (2012, ;p. 257). Further, their exclusion-based framing formula also shows that “when only a minority of the population is not in the network…the costs of the exclusion rise dramatically” (p. 259). Internet penetration in Japan is more than 75%, thus people who do not have Internet access is obviously the minority. It is urgent that we include the minorities’ voice in the digital media to add values and eliminate costs in the digital world.

Unlike U.S. where the spread of Internet has dramatically changed the traditional mass media’s presence and newspaper companies are giving up their publication, bankrupting or selling the firm, Japanese mass media, especially newspapers are maintaining its presence to a certain extent. There are several reasons for this, such as the “reporters club” system that limit the access to press conference to journalists of certain media companies and also the group company system that enable the central firm (news paper company) to be financially stable by conducting wide range of business.

Thus, the shift to digital media has not been as drastic as in the U.S.and Japanese media companies have failed to be fully on the track of the technological shift . They have been and still now insisting to “save” the traditional publication. Some scholars say that since traditional mass media have ignored and looked down on the Internet culture, not only did they fail to utilize the new tool, but also created anti-sentiment/hatred toward themselves by the active Internet users. That there are usually no space for the readers to leave comments under the online articles published by the newspaper companies tells the lack of interaction between journalists and readers, which is often required and expected in the online world.

For these reasons, fortunate or not, digital journalism in Japanese media context still have the potential to develop as a truly democratic sphere that includes voices from diversified people in the society. However, at the same time, Yonekura and Tani’s media survey with 1000 foreigners (Korean, Chinese, Brazilian, and Filipino) in 2010 shows that people who use internet more often both in Japanese and their native languages are tend to have high level in Japanese. This result implies that people who have high Japanese skill have enough income to access Internet service and have higher educational level, and thus influence the media literacy level (Yonekura&Tani, 2010, p. 77).Thus, dealing with the issue of digital divide is crucial. Also with the issue of who owns the media has to be discussed alongside.

As the legal system is not yet ready to integrate the presence of “immigrants,” the role of the media to lead the public discussion about this particular topic and to actually integrate them in their system increases. While pushing the traditional mass media to pay more attention to the presence of minorities, I see more quick and influential possibility in the digital media to realize the “information revolution” that enable more people to present their stories to the public. Creating online platforms open not only to people who are fluent in Japanese, but also for people from different cultural backgrounds could be one way. However, as xenophobic discourses have strong impact in the online world, securing the voices of the minorities is essential. Also, it is also important, but will take a long time, to reform the “reporter club” system to enable freelance journalists to attend the press conference not limited to, but especially related to immigration issues.Approaching from website design, an example could be the story telling website narratively, is another way. Whatever the way it will be, the potential of the digital media in Japan, both as a journalism and business platform is still unknown (in a positive way).

Screenshot (21)


Front page of narratively.
Human story telling website narratively.”Each Narratively piece is presented in the most appropriate medium, from longform and shortform writing to short documentary films, photo essays, audio, interactives and comics journalism.” (quoted from their website)

Works Cited:

narratively. http://narrative.ly/. Accessed November 15, 2014.

Wilson III, Ernest, J. and Costanza-Chock, Sasha. In Nakamura, Lisa and Peter A Chow-White, eds. (2012). Race after the Internet.(pp. 246-268) New York, N.Y. : Routledge.

Yonekura, Ritsu. and Tani, Masana. (2010). Kokunai zaijyu gaikokujin no media kankyo to media koudou: 4 kokuseki no gaikokujin muke denwa ankeito tyousa kara [Media environment and behavior of domestic resident foreigners: through the telephone survey of four foreign nationalities]. Housokenkyu to chosa, Augusto 2010.

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About tigerkay

Hi, my name is Kay. Interested in immigration, race, and diversity in the society we live. For now, I will be focusing on mainly writing stories about people living around Fukuoka, Japan who have cultural/national/racial roots other than Japan. Through this listening (interview) and writing process, I wish to find out how differences foster creativity, imagination and tolerance in the society, what it means to be living in a place where one is the minoroty, how we can accept differences, and how we can all live together by respecting each other.

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