Monday, October 22, 2007

Nitrous Oxide

Does anyone have a better explanation for whatever it is that is going on at The New York Times Tokyo Bureau?

Today, we have had to suffer through a clot of nonsense about a clothing designer's cute idea:

Fearing Crime, Japanese Wear the Hiding Place

by Martin Fackler - TOKYO, Oct. 19 - On a narrow Tokyo street, near a beef bowl restaurant and a pachinko parlor, Aya Tsukioka demonstrated new clothing designs that she hopes will ease Japan's growing fears of crime.

Deftly, Ms. Tsukioka, a 29-year-old experimental fashion designer, lifted a flap on her skirt to reveal a large sheet of cloth printed in bright red with a soft drink logo partly visible. By holding the sheet open and stepping to the side of the road, she showed how a woman walking alone could elude pursuers by disguising herself as a vending machine...

On the 19th we had an up close and personal interview with Prince "Hello There My Concubine!":

A Font of Commentary Amid Japan's Taciturn Royals

by Norimitsu Onishi -TOKYO - NEVER tight-lipped about his recurring battle with cancer, he still surprised many Japanese by admitting that he was an alcoholic and checking himself into rehab over the summer. Family problems, he explained.

The inevitable strain of a quarter-century marriage, a cousin's cryptic comments, existential questions about the nature of family and life itself, all of this, he said openly, had contributed to his heavier-than-usual drinking.

The family in question is none other than Japan's imperial family, and the recovering patient is Prince Tomohito of Mikasa, a first cousin of Emperor Akihito. The family's other members are only seen, if they are seen at all, waving at some official event. But this prince has never shied away from offering his personal opinions on everything from preserving the throne's unbroken male line — even, he wrote mischievously two years ago, by reviving the concubine system — to the private burdens of royalty.

"It's not only the past one or two years," the prince said of the stress behind his alcoholism. "As long as I can remember, the imperial family's been like one big ball of stress."

"Yessir, livin' in my palace, gettin' waited on hand and foot by an army of attendants, the stress...oh Laudy, the stress of it all... "

This is not a puff piece; this is journalistic...well..the flyers surreptitiously slipped into my mailbox label it "the VIP course."

However fawning, the interview is prize-winning stuff compared to this off-putting online offering:

Memo From Tokyo: Japan Wrings Its Hands Over Sumo's Latest Woesl

by Norimitsu Onishi - TOKYO, Oct. 18 — The problems swirling through Japan's ancient sport of sumo recently would seem to be random, unconnected events.

A coach was expelled from the sumo association this month for inflicting fatal injuries on a 17-year-old apprentice in a hazing incident and may face criminal charges. One of the two grand champions, Asashoryu, has been suspended for claiming an injury and then being filmed playing soccer in his native Mongolia. He is also suspected of fixing matches with other wrestlers, including the other grand champion, also Mongolian.

When things seemingly could not get any worse, a woman tried to climb up into the elevated sumo ring last month during a match, a no-go place for women, who are considered impure in sumo tradition. She broke free from a female security guard in the audience but was pulled down by a sumo wrestler who prevented her from entering the sacred ring and, in the eyes of traditionalists, defiling it...

Bowels of Christ, Onishi-san! How can the cleaning up the spiritual pollution of a woman's presence in the ring be equated with the unsolved and thus unpunished beating death of a child?

And right before that we had a story about...well, does anyone understand what Onishi's point was?

Death Reveals Harsh Side of a Model in Japan

by Norimitsu Onishi - KITAKYUSHU, Japan - In a thin notebook discovered along with a man's partly mummified corpse this summer was a detailed account of his last days, recording his hunger pangs, his drop in weight and, above all, his dream of eating a rice ball, a snack sold for about $1 in convenience stores across the country...

Trust me, if a person's corpse is lying around during a Japanese summer, one of the things is it not is "partly mummified." Try "mostly eaten," maybe.

What is going on with these two? Do they not understand they are reporting from a real country, with real problems and that these problems have global consequences? Or, if they are being pressured to present "off-the-beaten-track" stories, that Japan has developed some really interesting ways of coping with issues other countries are just coming to grips with?

Oddball trivialities are Japan Probe's and Pink Tentacle's idiom--and they are fulfilling the world's daily requirements quite well, thank you very much.

Or has the Tokyo posting become all just one big giggle, punctuated only by once-a-year solemn visits to Hiroshima/Nagasaki and back-of-the-hand-to-the-forehead "Oh My" descriptions of cetacean carnage at Taiji?

(For the record, what happens at Taiji is an obscenity. Coastal, even pelagic whaling is fine, if strictly managed. Dolphin and porpoise slaughter, however, is pointless. Nobody can safely eat dolphin.)

W. David Marx offers his two yen's worth over at Néojaponisme.

Later - I am fairly certain that Onishi-san had a rather serious point in mind when he began writing about the starvation notebook. Unfortunately, he does not ever express the point, whatever it was, leaving the reader annoyed rather than moved.


Jun Okumura said...

The stories read like a parody of The Onion.

They must be getting marching orders from HQ though. Michael S. Malone, a distinguished high-tech business writer who once wrote for NYT writes here that the entire NYT is going down the drain. To quote, "Like most newspapers, the Times decided to become more timely, more hip, and more judgmental than the electronic media -- when it should have become better reported, more objective, and better written; professionalism being the one arena where the new competitors would have a hard time competing."

Jan Moren said...

It's perhaps worth reflecting that when you read this kind of social reporting from other countries, chances are those pieces are just as angled and divorced from reality as these are.

I get the same disconnect when I see how media treats science stories - if those are so often so off the mark, then so are stories from other fields and I'm just not familiar enough with those subjects to recognize it.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you're calling attention to the mess that the NYT's recent coverage of Japan. I'm more and more suspect of Onishi's biases and Fackler's gone off the deep end with the most recent piece on the vending machine art/personal safety confusion.

I recommend David Marx's critique as well:

Anonymous said...

Here's the link:
Vending Machine Couture as Nation

MTC said...

Mr. Kanai -

Thank you very much for the for your kind comments. As it turns out I already had the link in the original post, in the last line. All contributions to this virtual conversation are nevertheless welcomed.

Anonymous said...

Since no one has mentioned it yet, I thought I would type a link to a piece on my new blog about this very issue.

Sorry, I don't have the link right now, but I will get back to you in a bit.


MTC said...

Marxy -

Look seven lines up from the end. A link to your post is there.

When are we mere mortals going to receive your take on the Sawajiri Erika brouhaha?

Anonymous said...

Shucks, my sarcasm about the overlinkage to my site didn't come through.

Erika Sawajiri - I dunno. The only good insight I have on that is that since she is not part of the Burning Production crew nor other "untouchable" talent agencies (only moderately powerful Stardust), the media had no fear of really pounding her on her behavior. I suspect that if Norika Fujiwara had pulled such bitchiness, the news would have to avoid the endless replays. The amount of gossip in Japan about a certain star is directly related to their management company membership. Take all the bashing that Hirosue Ryoko got back in the day.


Anonymous said...

I know a lot of people have had their beef with the NYT's Japan reporting for a while. I've only noticed the huge downturn in reporting since this summer- far less writing in general and what writing came out was also on the reuters circuit so very little was stunningly original. I started to wonder if they didn't have that office anymore or if the writers went on some extended vacation (along with the Japan reporters for the Asia Times.) Good overseas reporting on Japan in English has really dropped down. FT and the Economist seem to be some of the few places that aren't hawking "Japan- Land of the Strange" fluff all the time. Is Japan just that unfashionable right now that overseas papers don't want harder stories?