Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

I heard an interesting theory that I'd love for any Japan experts to confirm or debunk. Apparently, during the drafting of the Japanese constitution, the phrase "freedom of the press" was proposed by the US team. This was a big problem for Japan which had never really allowed any free speech. Instead of translating it as "freedom of the press" in terms of free speech they changed the meaning to freedom of "printing press" sort of press.

Later, there was a movement to prevent consolidation of power in press, but instead of making meaningful unbundling, the then Minister of Communications, Kakuei Tanaka, reinterpreted this initiative and broke up the licenses for local newspapers and TV to be delineated by prefecture (voting units) and made sure that the media in each prefecture was owned by someone affiliated with the ruling party. They also allowed the newspapers to own the television allowing the state (the ruling party) to essentially control the media.

Things are of course changing, but if this is true, this does explain a lot about the Japanese media...


I can find no evidence of any deliberate mistranslations of "Freedom of the Press" during the drafting of the Japanese Constitution, and I've studied this subject fairly heavily. There were, of course, several well known efforts to soften language by deliberate mistranslation, but I have never heard of Freedom of the Press being one of them. The authoritative work that discusses this translation issue is John Dower's "Embracing Defeat." Alas my copy is in storage so I can't check it now. I highly recommend Dower's book, it is the latest scholarship regarding the drafting of the Constitution, and his new research resolved many disputed issues. Dower won the Pulitzer Prize for this book (and well deserved, I might add).

You may find this related article of interest:

Thanks Charles. This narrows my search space. The person who told me the story said that there is documentation of the mistranslation so I'll try to track it down.

So does this mean that people working in the print trade in Japan have special constitutional protection!?

checked my Dower copy but didn't turn up anything....nor in Buruma's Inventing Japan. However, via Google Book search, did turn up what looks to be an interesting read vis a vis the Japanese Press: (though I didn't find anything about what you posted). Read it?

During the Jomon Period (13000 BC to 300 BC), the inhabitants of the Japanese islands were gatherers, fishers and hunters. Jomon is the name of the era's pottery.

During the Yayoi Period (300 BC to 300 AD), the rice culture was imported into Japan around 100 BC. With the introduction of agriculture, social classes started to evolve, and parts of the country began to unite under powerful land owners. Chinese travellers during the Han and Wei dynasties reported that a queen called Himiko (or Pimiku) reigned over Japan at that time. The Yayoi period brought also the introduction of iron and other modern ideas from Korea into Japan. Again, its pottery gave the period its name.

By the beginning of the Kofun Period (300 - 538), a center of power had developed in the fertile Kinai plain, and by about 400 AD the country was united as Yamato Japan with its political center in and around the province of Yamato (about today's Nara prefecture). The period's name comes from the large tombs (kofun) that were built for the political leaders of that era. Yamato Japan extended from Kyushu to the Kinai plain, but did not yet include the Kanto, Tohoku and Hokkaido.

The emperor was ruler of Yamato Japan and resided in a capital that was moved frequently from one city to another. However, the Soga clan soon took over the actual political power, resulting in the fact that most of the emperors only acted as the symbol of the state and performed Shinto rituals.

Due to friendly relations to the kingdom of Kudara (or Paikche) on the Korean peninsula, the influence from the mainland increased strongly. Buddhism was introduced to Japan in the year 538 or 552 and was promoted by the ruling class. Prince Shotoku is said to have played an especially important role in promoting Chinese ideas. He also wrote the Constitution of Seventeen Articles about moral and political principles. Also the theories of Confucianism and Taoism, as well as the Chinese writing system were introduced to Japan during the Yamato period.

In 645, Nakatomi no Kamatari started the era of the Fujiwara clan that was to last until the rise of the military class (samurai) in the 11th century. In the same year, the Taika reforms were realized: A new government and administrative system was established after the Chinese model. All land was bought by the state and redistributed equally among the farmers in a large land reform in order to introduce the new tax system that was also adopted from China.


Ito-san, few people outside of Japan really understand how bad the press are there. Maybe you should give a talk about it at HOPE in NYC this year.

I was recently discussing words for freedom with a colleague who told me that "Jiyuu" did not make an appearance in the Japanese language until the Meiji period. Struck me as hard to believe - but ...

Newspapers were consolidated by the government during the WWII. There was a policy for having only one paper per a prefecture. It has to do little with TV licensing or Kakuei Tanaka, a notable Ministry of Post and Telecom (later became Prime Minister).

Since after the war, for some financial and other reasons, smaller papers have not blossomed - resulting in a starkly different landscape from the U.S. where even a small town may have a local paper.

A handy reference I can think of on this is:

Regarding the TV licensing, newspapers were the major applicants for TV licenses and there was no cross ownership regulation like the one in the U.S.

Tanaka has given out many TV licenses during his tenure as the Ministry of Post and Telecom, and many of licensees were newspapers. This resulted in his strong influence on media.

The view that the ruling party and the media had strong relation is also quite common. I have heard of a local TV station whose board member includes a member of a ruling party.

A handy reference I can think of on this is:

Or a couple of web pages