The Myth of Japan's Technological Superiority - PART 4: Does the Burogu Have anything in common with the Blog?

Sunday, April 05 2009 @ 07:08 AM JST

Contributed by: Y.Yamamoto


My answer to this question is "Not at all." Intellectually lazy Westerners readily accept the passenger's view that the Japanese are very unique people, and yet they tend to assume our behavioral pattern is essentially the same as theirs. If they bothered to delve more seriously into this culture and its history, they would find out that their apparently self-contradictory premise can't be true, after all. Let's face it; there is a chasm between Japan and the rest of the world. And it's unbridgeable at least until either side shows the courage to face the abyss.

But for now I will try some explanation to make those largely Japanophilic folks think my heresy is not so absurd as it looks.

According to the most recent statistics compiled by Miniwatts Market Group, Japan's Internet Penetration Rate compares to that of other countries and regions like this:
Country/Region Internet Penetration
(% Population)
Japan 73.8
Asia 17.4
Europe 48.9
North America 74.4
World 23.8
Note: The dates at which the surveys were conducted vary by region, but no data is older than 2008.

If you are a person who believes numbers speak for everything behind them, you will conclude that Japan has already overcome all the odds caused by its world's most ineffective language and the "double-byte" obstacle associated with it, and now lives up to its reputation as a technological powerhouse.

There's another data that you may think confirms your presumption. Two years ago a "" website carried a post titled More Japanese Language Posts than English: Latest State of Blogosphere Report. According to the contributor by the name of Des Walsh, Japanese topped the list of blogging languages at 37%. This is astounding because Japanese-speaking people account for less than 2% of the world population.

When a numbers-savvy person looks at a piece of data which does not really add up, the first thing he suspects is that the compiler of the statistics must have compared an apple to an orange. And that is the case with the stats by

Actually you will understand that what the Japanese call burogu (Japanese transliteration of blog or blogs) has nothing, whatsoever, to do with what non-Japanese call blogs if you bother to look at December 6, 2007 report by Washington Post's Blaine Harden. What he was telling in this piece titled Japan's Bloggers: Humble Giants of the Web all boils down to the fact that there's no resemblance between a blogger and a burogaa. Overall, web content the Japanese can create is almost always kindergarten stuff.

In short, you've got to be intellectually lazy to talk about Japanese Netizens. It's an outright delusion to see such a thing in a country where there is no mature civil society - not even on the horizon. Very few Japanese Internet users are able to capitalize on the Web-based technologies in sharing their thoughts and emotions with other community members. This is not to say, however, every American or European Netizen is mature enough to make the most of the Internet.

Let me once again cite IBM consultant Grant Norris's way of defining disruptive technologies, such as the Internet, as against adaptive technologies such as the cellphone. He wrote that while adaptive technologies just "move earlier technologies forward incrementally," disruptive technologies "change the way people live their lives or the way businesses operate" in a disruptive fashion. To paraphrase this, disruptive technologies are the enablers of change.

It's totally unimaginable, however, that the Japanese can comprehend the implication of Norris's definition. For one thing, they have difficulty understanding the obvious fact that the most effective and economical way to do old things is to use the obsolete "legacy system." At best, it's a total waste of resources to do a 20th century, or even 19th century thing using the 21st century technology,

During my 46-year career in business, I was always facing a formidable difficulty especially dealing with Japanese male colleagues. These helplessly change-resistant people were unable to distinguish between ends and means. The last thing they would understand was that information technology, in itself, is not the purpose of our pursuit of life or business.

Since I can't afford to waste a tremendous amount of time, trying to instill my way of viewing technologies into these guys, I haven't discussed this issue with them for quite a while. Yet I can still visualize a typical conversation I might have with one of them, where I would always end up playing devil's advocate. It would go like this:

In the middle of our meeting, the guy sitting across the table from me keeps toying with his cellphone.
Me: (Becoming argumentative) Why the hell are you fiddling around with your handset all the time when we are up to a serious talk?
Guy: These days you can't live a single minute without this machine, you know. Actually I'm in love with him. He's so smart - and cute.
Me: Why is that?
Guy: At any moment my wife can send a text message to tell me to eat out alone tonight because she will have to work overtime. More importantly, one of my customers may call me up to cancel the meeting scheduled for late this afternoon - those kind of things.
Me: I wonder why you don't quit your job, in the first place, despite all these annoyances.
Guy: Don't be silly. I must make my living.
Me: What on earth do you have to make your living for?
Guy: (With a wry grin) Instinct for survival, I guess.
Me: So you don't have any particular reason to be around. Is that it?
Guy: Unlike you, I am an avowed family man. So I've got to stay alive as long as I can for the sake of my kids and wife.
Me: You guys always bring me back to the point where we started; Let me ask this question one last time; what are your family members living their lives for?
Guy: Leave my family alone, and shoot whatever you wanted to tell me.
Me: Before that, answer my question.
Guy: What an abominable nerd you are.
Me: If you call me that way, then allow me to call you an octopus.
Guy: !!!???

An octopus has 8 miniature brains - one at the root of each arm, His 8 small brains suffice when he goes through his daily routine such as catching his prey. All the while the main brain at the top doesn't do anything more than the operating system of the computer does.

Having processed information on an ear-to-mouth or eye-to-hand basis since his childhood, the guy's thinking ability has been seriously atrophied, while his thumb keeps growing disproportionately long. This is why his logic loops like a bug-ridden program every time his main brain faces a challenge from a nutter like me. You can never expect him to tell the purpose of his life from the tools with which to pursue it.

In this endless chain of means, we tend to lose track of our sense of purpose. And needless to say, you can't make the most of a technology if you are going to use it purposelessly. Any technology, either disruptive or adaptive, is intended to serve a certain end.

There is an added difficulty facing the Japanese: the infamous Kisha Kurabu (Press Club) system. The Paris-based press freedom watchdog Reporters without Borders (RSF) has long been criticizing the system as a major obstacle to freedom of speech in this country. I know most Westerners will knowingly say, "Ah, you are talking about the subtle suppression of FOS by the press. Any country has such a mechanism in one way or the other." But I think they have been brainwashed by Japanese media and Tokyo correspondents from Western nations. Again, they are comparing an apple to an orange.

I think you should listen to honest journalists such as Laurie Anne Freeman. In her well-researched and insightful book Closing the Shop, she meticulously analyzes the Japan-particular censorship mechanism, which relies largely on suppression from within, along with its history and the underlying cultural climate. Any second-hand knowledge about Kisha Kurabu system won't help you understand how Japan's media have distorted, sanitized, homogenized and standardized news stories since 1890, through what she calls the information cartels, to the interest of policymakers and the successive Emperors. As a result, the Japanese people are now living in Cartels of the Mind, she argues.

These are why web-based independent journalism hasn't supplanted, and will never supplant the old media in this country.

Roughly 85% of Japan's neotenized Netizens are burogu-ing on their tiny handsets to churn out insipid ideas which are not worth sharing with others. On the other hand the same old media enterprises are increasingly going online to claim dominance over the emerging burogo-sphere without abandoning their vested interests in the conventional media. So it's an inviable business to independently pursue an investigative and taboo-free journalism on the Web, let alone in the conventional format. Remember 90% of all news in Japan are sourced from government officials through Kisha Kurabu.

Basically the same thing can be said of publishing books here. So just forget it if you are planning to launch a Japanese website, or write a Japanese book, without prostituting yourself too much. The best thing you would be able to do in this futile climate is to emulate the old media or second-rate writers.

The people of this "IT-intensive" nation are too much in love with hardware and software involved in web-based technologies to care for humans. They will never be able to leverage the Internet technology to bring about a real change.

To be Continued to the 5th and Last Instalment

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