electronic journal of contemporary japanese studies
Discussion Paper 2 in 2001
Media and Communication in Japan
Current Issues and Future Research
Postdoctoral Research Fellow
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Japanese Studies and the Media
The media are undergoing rapid changes in Japan and elsewhere in the industrialised world, particularly with regard to the increase in multi-media technologies and the introduction of digital services. The importance of the media for every day life in modern, industrialised societies is reflected in an ever-increasing number of publications on the media, media ownership and media control. In addition, the media's roles for political and social change, their function as promoter of commercialism, their importance for information and entertainment and the media's use of language are some of the topics that have been and continue to be widely discussed. "Media studies" is a large and continuously growing interdisciplinary field of research which touches upon political science, sociology, psychology, linguistics, discourse analysis and cultural studies.
However, the media in Japan have not received adequate attention from scholars within the field of Japanese Studies. The lack of interest is evident from the relatively small number of publications by non-Japanese researchers on the media in Japan, compared with other core areas of Japanese Studies, such as politics, history, art or literature. This paper provides a short introduction to the Japanese media environment, followed by an overview of the current state of research in some of the major fields of media studies in Japan and suggestions for further discussion and research. The author hopes this paper may encourage other Japan scholars to take up media research.
The Japanese Media Environment
Japanese readers have a choice of approximately 120 daily newspapers with a total of 50 million copies of 'set papers' [i] (or 70 million if morning and evening editions are counted as separate copies), with an average subscription rate of 1.13 newspapers per household. [ii] The biggest Japanese newspapers are the Yomiuri Shinbun with a daily circulation of over 10 million copies, followed by the Asahi Shinbun with with more than 8 million (morning edition), the Mainichi Shinbun with close to 5 million copies and the Nikkei Shinbun with over 3 million copies. [iii] According to a survey conducted by the Japanese Newspaper Association (Nihon Shinbun Kyōkai) in June 1999, 85.4 per cent of men and 75 per cent of women read a newspaper every day. Average daily reading times vary with 27.7 minutes on weekdays and 31.7 minutes on holidays and Sundays. [iv] For a long time, newspapers were regarded as the most influential information medium in Japan, although audience attitudes towards television changed with the emergence of commercial news broadcasting in the mid-1980s. However, Western research on Japanese media continued to focus mainly on newspapers until the mid-1990s (eg Feldman 1993) and neglected the growing size and importance of the broadcasting industry, in particular of commercial television.
Television and Broadcasting Services
Over the last decade, television has clearly come to surpass newspapers as Japan's main information and entertainment medium. According to the fourth NHK survey on television viewing in Japan (Kamimura et.al. 2000), 95 per cent of Japanese watch television every day. The average daily duration of television viewing ranged from approximately 3 hours and a half in March 2000 to almost four hours in November 2000. [v] A large majority of viewers (79 per cent) have a set time slot for watching TV. 20 per cent of those surveyed said they "felt uneasy" when the television was turned off. The most popular programs are news and news magazine programs (72 per cent), weather forecasts (56 per cent) and television drama series (48 per cent). 86 per cent of viewers said they considered television an "indispensable medium", compared with 68 per cent who saw newspapers as indispensable. In particular, newspapers have lost their predominance as the "most useful medium" for news, information and commentary to television. [vi] In addition, television is also seen as the most useful medium for entertainment (58 per cent), compared with newspapers (2 per cent), other print media, including books and magazines (7 per cent) and 'AV-type media' such as CDs, MDs and video software (19 per cent). According to NHK data [vii], average viewing times for NHK programs did not change from 1998 to 2000 and averaged at about 1 hour 14 minutes daily, compared to approximately 2 and a half hours or more for commercial programs.
The public broadcaster NHK's revenue is mainly composed of subscription fees to its terrestrial and satellite services and supplemented by income from various subsidiary companies. The commercial stations rely on advertisement revenue and sponsoring. As of March 2000, NHK held a share of 18.9 per cent of media market revenue in Japan. [viii] The largest commercial television network Fuji TV held 9.1 per cent, followed by Nihon TV (8.3 per cent), TBS (7 per cent), TV Asahi (5.5 per cent) and TV Tokyo (2.6 per cent). All other commercial broadcasters together made up for 39 per cent of the market. Original programming cable TV had reached a market share of 6.5 per cent, while 2.6 per cent of the market share went to commercial satellite television (WOWOW 1.8 per cent, and SKY PerfecTV 0.8 per cent). Satellite television is set to increase its market share following the introduction of digital hi-vision services with six commercial HDTV broadcasters and seven NHK-operated HDTV channels in December 2000.
For many years, Japan lagged behind in Internet access and Internet-related technology development compared to the US, Canada, Australia and some European countries. For example, between January 1977 and March 1999, there were 12 times as many Internet-related patents in the US than in Japan. [ix] In 1998, just 11 per cent of Japanese had access to the Internet, compared with 26.3 per cent of Americans. [x] However, the last two years have seen rapid change in the Japanese Internet sector. According to Japan's Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications White Paper (2000), Internet penetration rates in Japan increased to 21.4 per cent as of February 2000, which was similar to Internet penetration rates in the UK at the time (23.7 per cent) and more than continental Europe (15 per cent in Germany, 12.9 per cent in France) but still below the high penetrations rates in Scandinavia (such as Iceland with 45 per cent) or the US (39.4 per cent). [xi] More recent data by the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications [xii] indicate a further dramatic rise in Internet connections over the year 2000, particularly in the area of Internet access via mobile phone terminals.
All major media outlets in Japan provide on-line access to some of their services. The digitisation of broadcasting will further increase the links between Internet and broadcast services. As elsewhere, the Internet is leading to rapid changes to the media environment in Japan and more research will be needed to understand its medium and long-term impacts.
Japanese Media Research
There is a large body of Japanese research exploring media theories, the history of Japanese media, the economic and structural links between different media, and the globalisation of the media. Useful introductions to the economic and organisational structure of Japanese media are, among others, Kōuchi et.al. (1995) and the English language booklet Japan's Mass Media (Foreign Press Center, 1990). There also is a growing number of publications, often written by present or former members of the media, which illustrate the work of journalists and media entertainers and provide anecdotal evidence of the complex interrelationships between the media, politics, industry and other groups in society.
Empirical research into media communication in Japan uses predominantly quantitative methods, for example in audience research and with regard to media content and media language. This is different to media research conducted in Europe and the US, where qualitative methodologies, such as discourse and conversation analysis or media literacy, have become increasingly important tools in analysing media content. However, qualitative media research in the US and in Europe tends to focus on the media of these countries, with limited scope for intercultural and comparative analyses. Within Japanese Studies, the media in Japan are only slowly attracting the attention they deserve. The following paragraphs provide a short overview of different areas of current research and outline possible avenues for future studies.
Media and Politics
The relationship between the media and politics and the media's role in modern societies form a central question for media research. The media in Japan have been ascribed conflicting roles and functions, ranging from "servants of the state" to being an "independent critical force on behalf of the public".
Many conservative politicians in Japan believe that television journalists have too great an influence on public opinion, particularly those working in commercial television. The lingering conflict between some members of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and the commercial broadcasting sector finally erupted in 1993, when the LDP attributed their first defeat in a general election since 1955 to the reporting of Kume Hiroshi's Newsstation (TV Asahi). The LDP, which soon afterwards regained their dominant role in government, was so angered over TV Asahi's alleged political bias that they tried to have TV Asahi's broadcasting licence withdrawn. The incident became widely know as the 'Tsubaki Affair' named after TV Asahi's then news director Tsubaki Sadayoshi (Altmann 1996). Even though the LDP did not succeed in the end, the incident shows the volatile and occasionally tense relationship between the LDP and the private media.
The public broadcaster NHK is held in high regard by the majority of Japanese television viewers as a source of reliable and objective news. However, the public broadcaster, too, has been subject to significant political pressure. NHK's budget has to be passed annually by parliament. The LDP has dominated the Japanese parliament since 1955 which in effect has given the LDP control over NHK's budget. Similarly, the president of NHK is elected by parliament and thus dependent on the LDP's approval. According to former NHK president Shima Keiji (quoted in Watanabe 1995, p. 32), the LDP repeatedly criticised NHK news reporting and threatened to withdraw the broadcaster's funding or sack its president. In addition, due to the long period the LDP has been in government, there are strong links between the party and the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications (MPT) which controls media licences. The MPT also oversees compliance with Japanese broadcast laws which demand that broadcast programs shall be 'politically impartial'. In the Japanese context, 'politically impartial' is often interpreted as 'politically neutral' or 'non-controversial'. Accordingly, NHK television news tends to avoid controversial topics and concentrate on 'objective', authoritative and bureaucratic news (Krauss 2000; Okamura 1993, p. 45). As a result, Japan's public broadcaster NHK is clearly limited in its scope to provide critical reporting and is therefore no medium for pluralistic debate.
The legal and political framework of media communication in Japan has led to a situation which is different to other Western democracies with strong public broadcasting systems. In Japan, critical reports, political comments and the discussion of diverging opinions are mostly left up to the private stations whose budgets are not controlled by the LDP-dominated parliament. The question is whether Japan's private stations, with their dependence on viewer ratings and industry support, are capable of fulfilling this role. [xiii]
It is interesting to note that the assessment of the Japanese media's importance for political processes is often remarkably divergent among media researchers and political scientists. For example, in her analysis of the events that lead to the end of the 1955 system and brought down the LDP Government in 1993, Altman (1996) takes the position that the media, particularly commercial television, played a crucial role in changing the political landscape. Her assessment reflects the sentiment of many Japanese media critics at the time: "Without television, many of the newly elected politicians would not have been successful. The fact that the three news parties - Nihon Shintō, Shinseitō, and Shintō Sakigake - were able to round up 103 seats, surpassing the JSP to become a new political force, was due in important ways to television. No election had ever felt the impact of television as did the elections of July 1993." (p. 175) Political analysts, on the other hand, often overlook the media's significance for political events in Japan. For example, Curtis (1999) hardly mentions the media in his political analysis of the events leading up the the LDP defeat in 1993 and certainly does not ascribe them with any significant impact on the changing political landscape in the early 1990s.
The truth probably lies somewhere in between. Altman may not have given enough weight to the many significant changes within the LDP, including the defection of several leading LDP politicians and the break-up of the influential Takeshita faction, and she may well have over-estimated the immediate effect of television broadcasting. Critical commercial programs such as Newsstation on TV Asahi and News 23 on TBShad been around since the mid-1980s, however, their reporting seemed to have little effect on voting behaviour in earlier elections. The political frenzy following Tsubaki Sadayoshi's unofficial remarks during a meeting of the Japanese Broadcasters Association's Committee for Broadcasting Programs (Nihon Minkan Hōsō Renmei Hōsō Bangumi Chōsakai) may partly be interpreted as an attempt by the LDP to shift the blame for their crushing defeat to a force outside the LDP. Tsubaki had said that "television reporting was based on the premise that the 1955 system had to come to an end. The main force behind the end of the 1955 system and the birth of the Hosokawa Government was television… I am very proud that the current government is nicknamed Kume-Tahara Coalition Government, referring to Kume Hiroshi and Tahara Sōichirō who both belong to my broadcaster [TV Asahi]…" [xiv] Tsubaki's comments resulted in a year long parliamentary inquiry before TV Asashi was again awarded an unlimited broadcasting licence.
However, there is some evidence that television news in Japan has shaped public perception of politics and the state in Japan in a different, more indirect way. According to Krauss (2000, p. 265-266), NHK's news programs "helped to legitimate the role, efficacy and capacity of the national bureaucracy as a central positive symbol to Japanese citizens and through that attachement integrate these citizens into the postwar democratic state." With the onset of critical news programs on commercial television, such as TV Asahi's Newsstation which was first broadcast in August 1985, the positive perception of the bureaucracy and its legitimacy as major political force within the Japanese state was challenged.
The dichotomy between positions taken by media researchers and political analysists, as indicated above, shows that the role of the media in Japan is still not well understood. What makes an assessment particularly difficult is that there are no long-term studies of media communication in Japan. This is a serious deficit in media research within Japanese Studies which will need to be addressed in the near future.
As mentioned in the introduction, Japanese audiences are exposed to several hours of media language every day. Media language therefore forms a large part of daily language use in Japan. This fact alone warrants closer linguistic attention, and there is indeed a large body of Japanese linguistic research on media language.
However, there are great differences in the way language research is conducted in Japan compared to Europe and the US. In Japan, research into media language is heavily dominated by the public broadcaster NHK's Committee for Broadcasting Language (Hōsō Yōgo Iinkai), with almost no linguistic research on media language by researchers outside the NHK. [xv]
The dominant role of the NHK language research committee is not surprising, given that many famous Japanese linguists, such as Kindaiichi Haruhiko and Shibata Takeshi, have worked for the NHK language committee over the years. Also, NHK conducts many major studies in co-operation with established language institutions such as the the National Language Research Institute (Kokuritsu Kokugo Kenkyūjo).
Research conducted by NHK is generally of a high standard, however, it is limited in its scope in that it is mainly intended to protect language standards in broadcasting and to improve the comprehensibility of news and information in NHK programs. As a result, there is very little research on language use and the content of programs on private television. In addition, NHK language surveys rely heavily on quantitative methods and focus on micro-levels of language use (accent, foreign loan words, the composition of headlines etc). Qualitative methods with a broader interest in media texts and their communicative functions, such as discourse analysis or the analysis of communication strategies characteristic of particular television programs, are only slowly finding their way into mainstream Japanese social and linguistic research. Over the 1990s, qualitative research methods of the "media literacy" approach were mainly promoted by community groups such as Shimin no terebi no kai ("Forum for Citizen's Television, FCT"). FCT translated the Ontario Ministry of Education's Media Literacy Resource Guide into Japanese (FCT 1992) and later conducted a media literacy study of television coverage of the Great Hanshin Earthquake (FCT 1995). Two recent Japanese publications promote further media literacy research in Japan (Suzuki 2000) and discuss the state of media literacy in other countries (Sugaya 2000).
In Europe and the US, on the other hand, quantitative empirical research of media output (such as content analysis) is increasingly supplemented by qualitative media studies conducted in linguistic pragmatics, discourse and conversation analysis as well as in media literacy and cultural studies. A number of empirical studies (eg Iyengar 1991, and in more detail Brosius 1995) show that there is a strong link between the way information is presented and how viewers process this information. According to Brosius (1995, p. 129), the main impact of television news does not lie in learning specific pieces of information. Rather, television news leaves "unspecific impressions" in the viewer which may relate, for example, to the public image of political actors, to the perceived relevance of problems and to the viewer's assumptions about where the public opinion lies on particular issues.
Linguistic media research explores the various ways information is framed in the media to achieve strategic communicative goals. For example, in the news sector these goals may include that news programs are "easy to understand" and that they appear to be "reliable", "up-to-date", "informative", "objective", "critical" or "entertaining". Similarly, participants in media dialogues, such as in political interviews, employ media-specific communication strategies to achieve a favourable impression on the audience.
In Japan, commercial late night news shows such as Newsstation (TV Asahi), News 23 (TBS) or News Japan (Fuji TV) regularly attract large audiences and successfully compete with the more traditional news programs on NHK. A major part of their success is due to the way these programs present information rather than the actual content of that information. However, to date there is no Japanese analysis of communication strategies in these programs. The only currently available study of presentation strategies employed in popular Japanese late night news programs broadcast during the 1990s on Japan's five major stations (NHK, TV Asahi, TBS, Fuji TV and Nihon TV) is Gatzen (2001).
In the broader picture of media research, "qualitative" studies, including the linguistic analysis of individual television programs, complement "quantitative" methods often used in political and social sciences, such as surveys and content analysis. Both quantitative and qualitative methods need to be combined in assessing the impact of media communication on politics and society (Krauss 1998).
There clearly is need for more qualitative research into media language in Japan. Apart from news shows, there are many other programs that would be interesting for further analysis, both with regard to the media and to a wider understanding of language use in Japan. For example, discussion programs such as Asa made nama terebi ("Life TV until dawn", TV Asahi) show discursive patterns which are clearly different from the idealised descriptions that are often found in linguistic literature on Japanese communication. A careful analysis of this and other programs would look into the strategic application or violation of "ideal" Japanese communication patterns with regard to politeness, turn-taking, directness in expressing opinions or dissent, etc.
Media and Gender
Media communication both reflects and influences social values and impacts on the formation or reinforcement of gender stereotypes in society. A large part of gender-specific media research in Japan focusses on women in the media, with somewhat less research available on other gender-related topics such as male stereotyping (for example, with regard to the role of fathers) or gay issues (for a perspective on gay issues in Japanese media see, for example, McLelland 1999).
In 1994, a book on the history of women in the mass media published by the Society of Japanese Women in Radio and Television (Nihon Josei Hōsōsha Kondankai 1994) celebrated women's contributions to Japan's media industry. Compared to a decade ago, the number of women working in the media seems to be on the increase, with more women in prominent and not gender-specific roles such as news readers or main presenters of current affairs and documentary programs. Furthermore, the traditional pattern of "older and experienced male anchorperson and young and attractive female co-presenter" was reversed in several news shows on commercial television during the 1990s. For example, News Japan (Fuji TV) and Kyō no dekigoto (Today's events; Nihon TV) are both news programs with women as main presenters. Similarly, some current affairs programs on NHK, such as Kurōzu appu gendai ("Today's close up"), are presented by well known female journalists.
However, the overall picture is still one of a great gender imbalance both in the print media and the broadcast media. For example, in 1993, NHK employed a total of 963 women (7.1 per cent of all staff) compared to 12,632 men. The ratio of women in the newspaper industry is even lower at 6.8 per cent of staff (Muramatsu 1998, p. 21). When it comes to the number of women in higher offices, the situation is even more unbalanced. In 1995, women accounted for 0.4 per cent of employees in higher positions in Japan's broadcasting sector (compared with 24.1 per cent in France and 13.9 per cent in Britain). Japanese women also held a similarly miniscule share of 0.2 per cent of top jobs in the print media (Muramatsu 1998, p. 25).
Another area of gender-related research is the analysis of media content with regard to gender stereotyping. The depiction of women in fictional drama series on Japanese television has undergone dramatic changes since the 1970s (Chioya 1998, Goessmann 1998). In the mid-1970s, two stereotypical role models prevailed, namely the strong and successful mother figure and the tragic heroine who lives in exile from her family. In the 1980s, family drama series began to show more varied role models, with more female characters taking their lives into their own hands. However, this does not mean that the idea of a woman's true place being in the home and with her family has vanished entirely from TV fiction. For example, it is still a common feature of many TV dramas that the woman, not the man, will give up her career to serve her family (Goessmann 1998, p. 71).
The women's magazine market also changed significantly from the early 1980s to the mid-1990s. The once popular, traditional genre of "housewife magazines" lost more readers over this period and had almost disappeared by 1995, whereas "life style magazines" increased their already large market share by a further 4.5 per cent from 1982 to 1995 (Morohashi 1998, p. 194-196). The other two most successful genres in the 1990s were women's weekly magazines featuring gossip, scandals and human interest stories, and fashion magazines, including "young fashion", "fashion for office ladies (OL)" and "fashion for women in their thirties". Morohashi (p. 204) also notes that in many fashion magazines, genuine "journalistic" articles account for less than one third of the magazine's content. For example, the June 1995 issue of the fashion magazine non-no contained only 27.4 per cent articles, compared with 43.9 per cent advertisements and 28.7 per cent advertisement articles. As a result, these magazines have been dubbed "catalogue magazines". This is certainly not a specifically Japanese phenomenon, and a closer look at many English language magazines such asVOGUE, Cosmopolitan or Harper's BAZAAR will reveal very similar patterns. The majority of Japanese women's magazines tend to focus on stereotypical women's topics such as fashion, make-up, cooking, gossip and human interest, sex and romance and family life. Interestingly, even "career woman magazines" - which promote a greater participation of women in the labor market - fail to address the issue of men's and children's participation in household chores (Morohashi 1998, p. 209). Japanese men's magazines traditionally focus on politics, leisure and sex with little interest in family and domestic issues. However, in the 1980s, some magazines aimed at a younger male audience, for example POPEYE and Hot Dog PRESS, began to copy the "catalogue magazine" format and included more topics traditionally associated with women's magazines, such as life style, fashion and advice on romantic relationships.
Gender relations in Japan continue to change, and the media both reflect these developments and provide new role models. Many of the topics raised above are also relevant for the mass media in other industrialised countries, which makes media and gender a particularly exciting area for intercultural research.
Conclusions and Further Research
Studying the media in Japan is not only an interesting research objective in itself, it also increases our understanding of Japanese society and it expands the current scope of media research and theory development by providing an insight into media communication beyond Europe, North-America and Australia.
Over the last number of years, there have been many new research projects on media communication in Japan. For example, the role of the media and their capacities and limits as a communication tool during disasters, such as the Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995, were explored by many Japanese scholars, including a research team under the direction of Morita Saburo at Konan University in Kobe. [xvi] The media's role for "creating images" of other countries is discussed in Krauss (1997) with regard to American and Japanese television news coverage of each other. The role of the media in shaping mutual understanding and relationships between Japan, China and Korea was the focus of a survey conducted by Hara and Shioda (2000). In Germany, the Deutsche Forschungsgesellschaft (DFG) is currently funding an interdisciplinary research project "The Asianisation of Asia", which explores, among other things, the way Asian countries and people are depicted in various media in Japan, including on television, in manga and in literature.
Other research issues currently debated in Japan which would also warrant more attention from Japanese Studies scholars include children and television (eg Katori 1990, for the current discussion of this issue in Japan see Odagiri 2001), violence and sex in the media, and the way citizens' groups use the media for environmental campaigns (for current Japanese research on this issue see, for example, Matsura (1999)'s case study of Internet use by a citizen group in Nagoya). Studying and improving media access for community groups is also at the heart of the work by a Japanese media consumer and research organisation called Conference for the Promotion of Media Access (Media akusesu suishin kyōgikai), which has been active since May 2000 (for the current state of media access research see, for example, Tsuda 2001).
However, one of the major gaps in current research on Japanese media is the lack of a systematic and long-term analysis of media content and media language, in particular with regard to political reporting. Only after documenting the development of news and other information programs over a longer period of time will it be possible to assess whether any variation in the choice and presentation of news items occurs over that time, what the nature of these changes are and whether it may be possible to link these changes to social and political developments in Japan.
In addition, the many recent changes to the Japanese media environment, including increased access to Internet, satellite and cable services, as well as the digitisation of broadcast services, warrant continuing observation and analysis with regard to their impact on the interactive relationship between the media and their audiences.
Altman, Kristin Kyoko, 1996, 'Television and Political Turmoil: Japan's
Summer of 1993,' in Media and Politics in Japan,
ed. E. S. Krauss and S. J. Pharr, Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 165-186.
About the author
Barbara Gatzen studied Japanese Studies, Linguistics and German Literature in Cologne, Trier and at the Free University of Berlin, Germany. From 1989-1991 she won a Monbusho scholarship to the University of Tsukuba, Japan and in 1993 did her M.A. in Japanese Studies at the Free University of Berlin. From 1994-1996 she was a Monbusho Research Fellow at Keio University, Tokyo and in 1998 gained accreditation as a professional translator in Australia. In 1999 she completed her PhD in Linguistics, again at the Free University of Berlin, with a thesis on Japanese television news. She has taught courses on Japanese media, translation and Japanese and German language at universities in Australia and Germany and she is the author of a book comparing Japanese and German television news (Barbara Gatzen, 2001 (due out in April/May) Fernsehnachrichten in Japan: Inszenierungsstrategien im interkulturellen Vergleich mit Deutschland, Gunter Narr Verlag, Tübingen.). She is currently working as media researcher for the DFG project "The Asianisation of Asia" and has recently been appointed as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Trier University in Germany and Visiting Research Fellow at the Australian National University in Canberra. She is also a Research Editor (Media Studies) for the electronic journal of contemporary japanese studies.
Copyright: Barbara Gatzen
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