Bright Light and Dark Shadow: Current Topics about Social Media in Japan

Takeo city--a role model for the introduction of social media into Japanese government offices ((C)The Sankei Shimbun & Sankei Digital)

As I wrote previously, the number of social media users in Japan has been dramatically expanding since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. However, anywhere there is a bright light, there has to be a dark shadow. This blog post is about current topics about social media in my country, Japan, to show the brightness and darkness of the new communication tools.

Social Media Enhances the Visibility and Transparency of a Local Government

Takeo city—a small town in western Japan famous for its hot springs—is a role model for the proactive and successful introduction of social media into government offices. Under the mayor’s initiative, the city migrated its official website to Facebook (Japanese language only) last August. Since then, the number of monthly hits to the city‘s  home page has steeply risen from 50,000 to 3.3 million. The city has received positive reactions from citizens. After the city posted a picture of a swollen river taken with a mobile phone, a citizen commented that the timely post was helpful to understand the situation. In addition, the mayor required all 390 city workers to create their own Facebook accounts and to use them for their work starting from April this year. The mayor, Keisuke Watanabe, says in an interview (Japanese only) that the use of Facebook has made the interaction with citizens more visible, and cuts red tape.

Social Media and Criminal Investigation

Social media is rivaling 911 services in crisis response and reporting. As the Rutger University student’s case shows, social media’s role in police investigations is growing. Like the U.S., the new communication platform has become a mainstay in police work in Japan.

The Yomiuri Shimbun–the largest Japanese newspaper and among the world’s most dominant (it sells 14 million copies daily1)–reported (Japanese only) that, using a YouTube video posted by a suspect, the local police in Hyogo prefecture were investigating a crime. The video shows a driver–the suspect–chasing a school boy on a bicycle along a river and shouting to the boy in a threatening tone, “I’m hitting and pushing you into the river!” Reports to the police from viewers of the video helped reveal the identity of the suspect , according to the news.

ISP Steals Users’ Information

On April 4, connectFree k.k. (Japanese only), a Japanese Internet service provider (ISP) led by an American CEO, was reported (Japanese only) to have collected users’ information without their approval, and to have invaded privacy of communication stipulated in the Telecommunications Business Act. The ISP provides users with wireless access to the Internet at convenience stores. The company admits to secretly gathering users’ data, including their Facebook and Twitter user IDs. According to the company, it collected the information to identify suspects in case its network was used for crimes

According to a report on TED 2012, a new browser enables us to know who is tracking us online. The report says, “We are being watched. It’s now time for us to watch the watchers.” Social media’s role is growing in many areas. We must monitor the use of the new communication tools by both public and private sectors, so that they do not go beyond public safety limits or invade individual privacy.

Privacy invasion is not an acceptable price to pay for access to the Internet.

1. Seitel, F. (2011). The Practice of Public Relations. NJ: Prentice Hall

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New Media is Changing Traditional Journalism in Japan


Without question, the Internet and social media have dramatically changed the way we work, and, most important to communication professionals, the way we communicate. “The Internet phenomenon, pure and simple, has been a revolution,” said Fraser Seitel, NYU PR professor in his book, The Practice of Public Relations.

This blog post is about the implication of changing media on the Japanese PR community. Based on my experience as a PR officer for a Japanese government organization, I will focus on Kisha Kurabu (reporters clubs) to describe the battle between traditional and new media.

Kisha Kurabu

Kisha Kurabu,  in other words reporters clubs, represent Japan’s unique system of media relations in the post-war era. Reporters clubs are attached to organizations such as central and local government agencies, and major corporations. For example, Monka Kisha Kurabu, which covers educational, science and technology issues, is located in the building of Japan’s Ministry of Education, Science and Technology. The members  mainly consist of major TV networks and newspapers including the Yomiuri Shinbun newspaper, which has the largest readership in the world (it sells 14 million copies daily). 

The clubs act as channels for distribution of official information from organizations, but have recently been exposed to criticism for their exclusivity: they restrict open and free flow of information. Organizations and reporters clubs limited press events – such as press conferences – to their member journalists. This prevented journalists from outside the clubs, including the Net and foreign media, from accessing news sources.  Nowadays organizations are open to non-member journalists. But many of the organizations still give non-members only observer status — they can join press events, but cannot ask questions. That’s why the reporters club system is called the cartelization of information by Japanese mainstream media.

Break Down the Wall

On November 11, 2011, to challenge the exclusive system, non-member journalists such as the Net media and freelancers launched the new media organization named the Free Press Assiciation of Japan (FPAJ). FPAJ allows any journalist (including foreign  media) to join press conferences it hosts and to ask questions. Web media stream the whole conferences live to the audience. This attracts speakers including big name politicians and business leaders who had rejected requests from Kisha Kurabu to media events held by FPAJ. This is because they do not have to worry about information manipulation by news editors of major media, who often use only negative parts of speakers’ comments. Owing to FPAJ, the roles and influence of Kisha Kurabu are allegedly diminishing, and their position as opinion leaders are flagging.

Still Benefit

Based on my experience, there is a benefit of Kisha Kurabu. When an organization plans to hold a press conference or distribute a press release, it can talk about  its schedule with Kanji-sha, a contact person of a reporters club. While a source organization wants to reach a wider audience, reporters want news and know the best timing through their strong network in the club. If the schedule conflicts with big events by other organizations, the contact person may suggest that the organization  should change the schedule. The organization may listen to the advice, because the suggestion will help it reach a wider public through the reporters club members, including major media. If the organization wants to have the press events as originally scheduled, they can do so.  


Media technologies have dramatically changed the way we communicate, and  have influenced Japan’s media world. Emerging journalism backed by new communication tools is changing the traditional Kisha Kurabu system. The relationship between source organizations and reporters clubs may sound cozy and antithetical to foreigners  including American professional communicators. But as mentioned above, the system still has benefits.      

So my question for you: what do you think about Kisha Kurabu? Do you think the reporters club system will be able to survive? Comments, advice, and words of wisdom.

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