Thursday, June 12, 2008

Japanese News for Friday the 13th

I was trolling the Japanese news sites for something funny to post. Normally the entertainment section does not disappoint. Today we learn that Ai Kago, ex-member of the hugely successful girl group Morning Musume, had a cigarette while visiting Hong Kong. How this stands as national news I have no idea, but it might be tied to the fact she was caught smoking as a member of group when she was just 16. Her comments were a bit disturbing, noting on her website, "This is not good. I hate myself." Commenters on the story were less harsh toward the her, leaving their wrath for the website, "This might be the dumbest story ever put on []...which is an amazing feat."

Finding a humorous story this week was difficult as the rampage in Tokyo, whose news I'm sure has spread to North America, has continued to ring across society. A couple of points about where it occurred; Akihabara, now popularly shortened to Akiba, the geeky electronic section of Tokyo, is in the process of evolving, but to what is not clear. The area is becoming more mainstream, tracking the growing popularity of geek culture at home and abroad. Statically, violent crime is down, while during the past couple of years, random violent crime has ticked up slightly. The area were it happened was a Sunday only pedestrian-zone right near the station. Also, the coverage was broad and detailed because of the intense use of video cellphones.

An interesting facet to the case was that the suspect broadcasted his events up to the attack on the massive Japanese web forum 2chan. That is a forum so big it has developed its own culture. It's traffic carefully measured because such a large segment of the population uses it. It is events like these that further solidify the site's influence on Japan. I don't blame the owner for not catching the comments as the site is truly massive. Furthermore, in regards to liability, I picture ISPs and forums like phones line, in that the owners (with some exceptions) can not be responsible for what is said on them. It would completely kill the industry instantly if such a burden was placed on them. No one would ever rationally take on that type of liability.

The attacks in Akiba mark yet another in a series of knife attacks in Japan over the past decade that is important background information to understand the reactions. Story commenters internal to Japan focused on the role violent film and television played plus the stress and pressure Japanese face to conform. Story commenters external to Japan turned the conversation toward Gun Control; that if only guns were easier to own and carry this kind of tragedy would not occur. While I see their point I still believe at least some attempt should be made to stop these tragedies before they happen, which would mean addressing the issue at the bottom of this tragedy: mental illness.

Unfortunately, the Japanese Parliament has also seemly missed the point too. Instead taking the opposite approach of actually considering nationally regulating all blades over 4cm. From my perspective this is just pure absurdity. Arguments of practically and gigantic bureaucracy aside, I suppose some of the misplaced reaction might stem from a cultural stigma toward mental illness, however, in this case, I suspect we are watching a political reflex (to look like one is doing something--anything--about the problem) rather than anything malicious.

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