Problems with New York Times report on 2-D love in Japan

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    so ronery

    If you’re a regular reader of Japan news sites, you’ve probably encountered links to a recent story in the New York Times magazine about the “phenomenon” of otaku men who date pillows in Japan. Its author, Lisa Katayama of Tokyo Mango blog, is a writer who has built her career on reporting quirky things about Japan, and most of what she writes isn’t too bad. This article, however, had a few issues.

    Those unfamiliar with the facts might think that the “thriving subculture” of ultra-otaku Katayama describes are representative of otaku culture as a whole. Journalist Francesco Fondi wrote the following in a blog post denouncing the article [I’ve added a link to this quote to explain the Mainichi reference]:

    Nisan is part of a thriving subculture of men and women in Japan who indulge in real relationships with imaginary characters. These 2-D lovers, as they are called, are a subset of otaku culture— the obsessive fandom that has surrounded anime, manga and video games in Japan in the last decade. It’s impossible to say exactly what portion of otaku are 2-D lovers, because the distinction between the two can be blurry.”

    Are you sure?! If you have been in Akiba or Toyko even once you know that this “new phenomenon” (as they call it) is fake/made up. Have you ever seen otakus dating their Moe pillows?! Me no…
    This is an example of why traditional journalism is sinking and why writers outside the Otaku culture should stay out of it and do not write about it…

    Basically they took a classic WaiWai style “scoop” and presented it as a real and widespread social phenomenon in Japan !!

    He also noted that Nisan is well-known within the otaku community as a extreme weirdo, and that some think his pillow love photos are just part of an act aimed at getting attention. He’s been around for a few years now, with some of his ridiculous photos becoming internet memes.

    Perhaps the comparison to WaiWai is not out of line. When I noticed that Adamu of Mutantfrog was having trouble believing the “more than a quarter of men and women between the ages of 30 and 34 are virgins” claim Katayama makes in her article, I was reminded of something I had read in a WaiWai column. Sure enough, some Googling turned up a WaiWai article from 2007 contained a line that stated, “almost one in four Japanese men aged 30 to 34 remains a virgin.”

    Adamu did some research on the statistics Katayama uses in the article, digging through Japanese government reports to find that both the WaiWai article and Katayama’s article made the remarkably similar mistake of omitting the fact that the virginity statistics only applied to unmarried Japanese – not the entire population of adults between the age of 30 and 34. He’s written an excellent post summarizing some other problems with the article, which I urge everyone to read.

    Lisa Katayama has denied that she used WaiWai as a source, but she has not shared the specific studies from which she got her statistics. She has responded to criticism through Twitter:

    issues and bias

    That may have applied to some of the early complaints about her article, but now that a well-written piece of criticism is up on the net, it might be time for Katayama to deliver a more serious response to her readers.

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