Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

Several of us have been talking about a revolution in Japan recently and I've been interviewing many people about their thoughts on the need, the possibility and the correct process.

I think it is clear that it will take something on a revolutionary scale to change the Japanese system enough to make it a functioning democracy. This revolution probably does not involve violence. This revolution will require the people to want change so much that they become actively involved in trying to cause change.

Most people still have jobs and are generally happy. Most people believe that they cannot cause change. And in fact, there is no easy mechanism for the people to cause change.

Several people have suggested that a revolution won't happen until we have a true economic meltdown -- maybe in a few years.

I had several people over to my house yesterday including people from the press, IT industry, financial industry and non-profits ranging from someone in their 20's to people in their 60's. It was my own little deliberative democracy representing a variety of views. Anyway, we talked a lot about revolution. The older participants remembered the student uprisings in the 60's and 70's in Japan and described how they started and were eventually stomped out by the riot police. I talked about how blogs could encourage activism and they described that the way the students got "activated" was similar. We decided that the environment which caused the student uprisings does not exist today and the establishment and its ability thwart such an attempt is much stronger.

So, we decided that we focus not on politics or revolution for the moment, but on "truth." We will focus on having meetings and creating tools to help people in pursuit of "the truth." We talked about many things that we thought people should know and analysis that should be conducted and the members from the media explained that more than any malicious intent, it was the lack of incentive and will for them to spend the energy to do this that kept these sort of things from being reported. Someone mentioned that "the truth" is subjective. Yes. It is. But I think it is much easier to argue for the necessity of knowing the truth than arguing for democracy (a concept that I am find is actually quite alien to many Japanese) or the overthrow of the establishment. I think that blogging, polling and other tools that help us find out what the people think and expose and analyze what those in power are doing will help people become aware and active. That's the first step. We decided to continue to have regular meetings to talk about how to collect facts and highlight important truths.


My wife, who's Japanese, laughed at my naivete when I claimed nothing short of a complete meltdown would cause the Japanese to get their act together. She claimed that nothing would likely change even then. What is it about the Japanese psyche that prohibits these necessary changes? I mean, when your economy is on the verge of imploding and your banks are near to catastrophe and your government views what could charitably be called corruption as normal working procedure it should be obvious it's time to change!

No doubt there's a healthy fear of the changes that must be made, and I'd be willing to bet many with the power to do something hold irrational hopes that this time, like the last time, their complicity, greed and corruption will go unnoticed as things right themselves. Not unlike people who fail to take action until it's too late I suppose there's a good chance they don't realize the gravity of the situation or their personal ability to affect changes.


I was going to make a comment at this point about cowardice and stubborness, but I think I just convinced myself that's not the whole story.

To what ends do you want more your revolution? Most revolutions are bloody affairs that lead worse tyranny. How will you ensure that your revolution for greater grass-roots democracy doesn't lead to grass-roots reign of terror with guillotines, show trials, purges and gulags?

In Japan, you would need an actual ideological issue for people to rise up. People will not rise up for the cause of, say, Greater Transparency In Government!!The only cause likely to motivate more interest in politics is N. Korea. People don't like the idea of Krazy Kimmie holding a nuke over their heads. Self defence is a great motivator. Maybe people will get tired of outsourcing their defense to the US.

I don't know much about 60's and 70's activism in Japan but wasn't it mostly Leftist, anti-Vietnam stuff? Seems a poor example to emulate these days. Wouldn't a new model be called for. Perhaps I'm ignorant and have only heard about the Seki-Gun and seen black and white pictures of University student sit-ins. I apologize if I'm mistaken.


I'm calling it a revolution because it requires a major shift in power (from centralized to distributed) and a review of the whole rule making process which will not happen as an evolutionary change.

I think greater transparency will help wake people up to the fact that their hard work is going to feed a completely unproductive power structure filled with people who do nothing and get paid. People are being taxed without representation and this tax is being wasted in a totally irresponsible way. The democracy is so broken that even if we discover the government behaving poorly, we have no retribution and in fact the government stamps out agents of change very effectively. It is a revolution because we are not going to be able to argue our way into a better process.

I think that many revolutions have occured because of taxation and finance. I think that this could be the trigger and transparency being the key to enable people to "follow the money."

Yes, the student uprising were a bit "lefty" but many of the people who were involved were right wing as well. Generally, it was just anti-establishment. No, the belief system is not something to model after, but the way that the young people decided to get involved was something that can't be seen in young people in Japan today...

It seems to me there are a few major obstacles to overcome in order to create greater transparency and to get things snowballing. in the short term, a blitz of eye-rolling information -- flyers, posters, and big signs clearly showing how citizen-joe's tax money is serving them no purpose. Expose easily understood loop holes, and get people agreeing with the rediculousness of the current taxation scheme. This would be an equally tough excercise for the visual artist to create an eye-catching, yet elegant (as the Japanese seem to compete on how much information they can fit per square cm) display of information. The major media outlets are puppets, so this approach must be governed by renegades ;) The longer term approach I think needs to start with the education system. As a disclaimer, i will state that i am not a product of the Japanese school system, but from what i have observed, there is still a strong infusion of risk averse attitudes along with teachings of compliance and conformity. Students just become yes-boys and girls to the older generations, which simply gets passed down. Teachings of understanding and respect towards diversity and opposing views still have a long way to go.

As much as I agree blogs have a strong influence, I wonder how they will fare in Japan. Do people really read blogs through their mobile phones? (does your site have a special layout for mobile users, Joi?) The desktop market might be expanding in Japan, but it might help to see exactly which demographic is driving the market-share expansion. I think i read somewhere that Japan is one of the most literate countries, but my take is that most of this is still done on the ol' papyrus; I still see hordes of people standing at magazine racks to catchup on the latest comics and whatnot. I think Japanese use their internet access -- mobile and wired -- mostly for entertainment and socializing, although i have no hard evidence to back this up (yet). Is there a group that can do a bit of "market" research to see how exactly the Japanese are getting their news and information? After all, that *is* the ultimate rub...

If it's not done. Joi, I think it's time for you to read Windows and Fences of Naomi Klein.

She maintained a diary of anti-globalization movement in the world. :) It's very interesting. The world anti-globalization is not a very good pickup, because people are not against globalization but are against some of the globalization's ideas.


An example of a "quiet revolution", as opposed to the violent images that we often associated with the R-word, is in fact being demonstrated in the changing role of women in Japan. :)

This may be a bit of a taboo, but what's the story with those darkly-clad gentlemen I saw driving around Tokyo in black vans with loudspeakers blaring? How is their revolution coming on?

I sometimes wonder if Japanese people don't even realise their government could/should be doing a better job, because they have nothing to compare it to. Despite the Japanese love of America and the west in general, most people still don't seem to know much about 'over there'. After all, only Japan has four seasons, right? ;-) Maybe everyone is just unaware of bad governance, like ignoring advertising or power lines. I think the only thing that would cause swift change would be the government stuffing up monumentally, but they've had 10 years of practice hobbling along. And the population implosion is still 20 years away.

I had this wonderful pipe dream of making a Japanese website detailing all political and major commercial scandals in Japan. The money swindled would be cumulatively totalled, and on the front page it would prominently display "You have been robbed of xxxxxxx yen by politicians so far". This sounds remarkably like what you're talking about Joi. Does anything like this already exist?

As a reference, here are a couple from the USA looking at election funding;
I think something similar in Japan could be much more powerful, because of the higher levels of criminal corruption.

I sure hope whatever it is that'll start change in Japan comes soon! Maybe if you sign Ayu up, or covertly slip some revolutionary phrases into Bera-Bera English? ;-)

PS Steph, I personally love the term "birth strike" hehehe

Murakami Ryu actually wrote a book about what could have been done with the huge amounts of money wasted on useless projects in Japan. I don't think it's been translated though...

Blogs are rhetorically interesting in that they're currently viewed by a modestly sized segment of society but in theory, by being on the web, are fully viewable to almost everyone. In my limited (couple years) experience in Japan the fear of shame seems inordinately powerful. That shame seems to be forced only by the mainstream media rather by the tabloid weeklies or what gets posted on websites.

If blogs are to ignite this needed revolution, does Nikkei, Yomiuri, and NHK need to lead the charge with blogs that anyone can post to? Or could independent sites rise up like they have in the west?

Sorry for the delay in responding. I was swamped yesterday.

Matt... Agree generally. Am going to start to try to get journalists and journalism students to start blogging more. Most people don't speak up, but if you read the magazines you'll know that there a lot of people who do. Empowering journalists in minor journals to compete with the big newspapers may be one way to unleash power. Moblogging is interesting, but I find people terse and low content on mobile messaging. Audio blogging may be more in depth though, but still hard to scan a debate, I would think.

Just ordered Windows and Fences. Thanks Karl.

Antoin, the hard-core right wing is sort of out of style a bit these days, but I can see it bouncing back with the North Korean threat.

Boblet, interesting idea. I'll propose it at our next meeting.

Chris, I can't see the mass media leading the charge, but with over 50% of the people in Japan using the Internet and 70% or so of them using search, I can see blogs gaining strength. Just 2 years ago only 37% of people in Japan used the Net and 42% searched.

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Joi Ito finally said it; the R word: Revolution. In his case he speaks of Japan and it's political/economic systems, but I've been itching to hear it lobbed about here in North America, and more specifically, in the U.S. Helloooo Read More