Censorship in Japan

A lot of things on Japanese TV bother me; the lack of channels, the lack of variety, the lack of real content, etc. All of those are mainly based around the fact that Japanese people don’t like to rock the boat too much when it comes to personal opinion. People will never outrightly disagree with you, unless you are close friends perhaps, but my Japanese friends have always used polite disagreement methods, which I don’t detest but can get annoying for someone like me. I crave honesty and I am rather blunt and sarcastic, and I like to hear what people really think, and a lot of that is in direct opposition to “normal” Japanese communication methods.

The one thing that bothers me the most about Japanese TV, though, is the censorship. I’m mainly talking about when non-Japanese are on camera, talking in another language. Usually, what the person says in their native language is muted or turned down so low that the audience can barely hear it, and then they dub over it in Japanese. This seems strange to me, considering how much Japanese people love adding subtitles to everything on TV. Most shows have lots of text that goes all over the screen, reinforcing what the people are saying. In America, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a constant stream of subtitles in English unless you find that button on your remote so you can mute the TV.

I remember this happening when I was younger, though. I would watch a kid’s program and there would be a Spanish speaker on it, talking about something that was dubbed over in English. Even as a kid, I wondered why they did that because I love hearing different languages spoken even if I can’t understand them. On kid’s programs, it’s a little more understanding, though, because the TV producers can’t be on the audience’s ability to read subtitles. However, this has happened over and over again in Japan, and as a native English speaker and avid language learner, it really irks me.

However, I don’t think Japanese people understand the dangers of this situation. It’s really convenient to be able to mute someone’s actual words and then subtitle or dub over it whatever you want, isn’t it? My Japanese friend posted a link on Facebook recently and pointed out a situation in which a TV program blatantly did this to make a young Korean girl look like she was bashing Japan. The program was on Fuji TV, and there have been multiple articles on the incident since the “mistake” was outed. Fuji TV even made a comment about it, sayingthey mistakenly matched the wrong footage with the right subtitles… seems a little fishy to me.

This sort of thing isn’t isolated to TV, though. Tabloids are a huge thing in Japan, and since I like a few idol groups in Japan, many times I’ve had people tell me the recent scandal they’ve heard about a celebrity I like. I always laugh it off because without having the actual facts, I don’t like to believe things like that. I’m a little gullible by nature but I’ve tried to train myself not to instantly believe what I’m told. However, Japanese schools pretty much train their students the exact opposite. Learn this and only this. This will be on the test, but everything else you don’t have to remember.

Textbook censorship in Japan is not an unknown problem to most of us living in Japan. (One Japanese government employee even went so far as to travel to the United States to try and persuade a textbook author to take out the two paragraphs on comfort women and the Nanjing Massacre in his book.) However, through talking with my students, I’ve found that they have huge gaps in their education, and by looking at their textbooks I can tell they gloss over many many details. Of course, our education system in America is not perfect and does the same thing. However, I remember my history teacher in high school imparting on us to always double-check facts and to never trust one source for all of our information. It really changed the way I learn and to see the exact opposite in Japan happening is frankly shocking, no matter how long I live here.

I think a big problem in Japan is the lack of dialogue. Counseling is still not seen as something “normal” people should have to go to, and many issues are swept under the rug. Japanese people don’t protest very often, and Japanese laws are slow to change. A lot of people from different countries come here to understand Japan and some of them think they will be the ones to change the attitudes of those around them, but I’ve rarely seen it happen. Japanese people are notorious for not wanting to have uncomfortable conversations, which I think are sometimes sorely needed. It’s so interesting to me because I still don’t know what I think about this situation.

In college, I took a class where we sat in the round discussing cultural differences and one of the things we talked about was communication style. At the time, I was all for the more passive form of communication but now that I’m here again, I feel like it takes more energy to keep things inside than to air one’s grievances. A lot of people say “Well their communication method works for them, so who are we to say it’s wrong?” and I can kind of agree with that, but I know a lot of Japanese people who wish Japan would become more accepting of differences, too.

I’m leaving Japan soon, so I think I’m in a stage where a lot of things bother me and I’m ready to move on. However, these are issues that Japan cannot ignore. There are many others like me who are hoping for a more tolerant and understanding Japan, so if you’d like to check out someone else like that, check out this guy.

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8 thoughts to “Censorship in Japan”

  1. Hi Monica, glad I found this link from my tumblr search. I’ve been thinking about japanese dramas / talkshow lately. It’s rather hard for me to write down what’s in my mind, but your post is a great trigger, I haven’t find many posts in this topic. Thank you very much 🙂

  2. Hi Monica, glad I found this link from my tumblr search. I’ve been thinking about japanese dramas / talkshow lately. It’s rather hard for me to write down what’s in my mind, but your post is a great trigger, I haven’t find many posts in this topic. Thank you very much 🙂

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