Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

Last night all TV channels were running "specials" of Horie and his rise to fame and his recent troubles. The newspapers and TV reports were so amazingly detailed you might think they had been preparing these shows for months. The shows remind me of the scenes in movies where the mob throws vegetables and jeer at the accused during public hangings. This swing from hero to villain is a common thing in Japan. However, I think Horie pissed off more than the usual share of big-shots so he's got a number of powerful constituents fueling the flames. Regardless of his guilt or innocence, I find this public flogging and mob jeering rather disgusting.

My wise attorney in Japan always tells me to try to stay out of the press. There is an old saying in Japan that the press always get to use you twice. They write about you to push you up and they write about you to tear you down. This is clearly the case with Horie.

Things Horie has said in his book and on his blog are being featured prominently in the media. In his book, Horie makes some strong statements. He says that money can buy anything and also talks about cutting chonmage (the samurai hair knots). Both of these statements are stupid and provocative statements in my personal opinion. Note to self: be careful about what you write and say.

This also reminds me of various other public figures that I've known in Japan. I used to work closely with chairman Shima of NHK (the national broadcasting company) and watched as he rose to fame and gained a sense that he was running Japan. I remember being in his office watching a Diet meeting. He grabbed the phone and called someone and told him, "I TOLD so-and-so not to say it that way!" and slammed the phone down. He also regularly told foreign heads of state that he ran Japan. However, when he decided to take on the ruling party and try to make the public broadcasting independent of government control, he was smacked down hard and fast by the LDP. (NHK's budget requires approval by the Diet which is controlled by the LDP.) Ousted with a minor scandal, I remember going to the funeral of his son shortly after his ejection from NHK. The company had ordered former co-workers at NHK not to attended his funeral. Mr. Shima passed away several years later lonely and completely powerless.

There is a long list of people who have been hyped and then smacked down by the media. I would say that those who piss off the media and the ruling party seem to get smacked down the hardest. I know a number of people who have fallen with various scandals, but have rebounded several years later. Many people who were smeared with the Recruit scandal years ago are now back in play.

My advice to people who are thinking of becoming public figures in Japan:

1) Manage media exposure - Take breaks from media appearances and be wary of articles that want to make you look better than you really are. Try to get out from under labels that at first glance may appear flattering but could piss people off or make you look stupid.

2) Don't believe the hype - Obvious point, but EVERYONE seems to get a dose of invincibility madness when the get glowing press and get shuttled around in motorcades. This madness is the weakness that will be exploited.

3) Don't say or do ANYTHING that might be used to tear you down - Japan (not only Japan) is full of situations where people break the law because everyone else does it. Sometimes it feels like securities and corporate statute are at the level of traffic laws - things that can be ignored as long as you don't get caught. The problem is, just because everyone else is doing it, it doesn't mean it won't be used against you. Especially if you are going to take on the establishment, you have to keep yourself squeaky clean.

4) Don't piss people off for fun - There are plenty of situations where people will get pissed off with what you do. There is no point in pissing people off on purpose. Resist the urge.


How do you think blogging will change the rules of the game for Japan?
If you're writing your own defense and your full opinions in a forum over which you have complete and total control, you are at least less at the mercy of an editor with an agenda who wants to take your statements out of context.

Of course, anything you do online can come back to bite you if you are stupid.

A simple suumary is that "Derukugi wa utareru", meaning that a sticking-out nail will be hit down is a long-standing tradition in Japan. What is new?

Jim: Yeah, your blog can help, but mass media still has incredible power in Japan. In the train, even the old ladies were talking about Horie. The ability to spin the story is strong, particularly when you have the whole media enterprise and politics against you. I think it will be awhile before the blogs will protect you. Also, I think the mobby nature of the public and the tendency to turn against people who are in the limelight won't change even on blogs.

m.i. : Yes, I agree that it's not that "new". It's an old tradition.


Thanks for blogging about this. It is really difficult to understand what is going on through western eyes, and you are an excellent broker. I put a toe into the Japanese market at the beginning of the year, and it has been a wild ride to say the least.

I hope the business climate stabilizes. I think Japan is in a good position to address the coming energy problems, but there still seems to be some hang over from the boom years.

Thanks again,


The media is coming down especially hard on the guy because he tried to take over "one of theirs." It's not too surprising to see Fuji TV beating the war drums harder than most. Another happy party in all of this is the TSE, whose total ineptitude has been overshadowed by the Livedoor Shock.

Meanwhile, Huser president Ojima hangs out in a blissfully quiet absence of coverage of his malfeasance. I guess the LDP decided it would be better to hang Horie out to dry, loose ties to the party and all, than to have all attention focused on the politicians' much tighter ties to crooked developers.

It's all quite depressing . . . Still, I think there's a considerable population of younger people who are still rooting for the 33-year-old who put his thumb in the eye of the establishment so many times. Japan isn't all your taxi driver.

The main reason Horie's getting what's probably the most media attention he's got in his life despite all his grandstanding is just that .. he's grandstanded his way straight into jail.

Your points #3 (don't do illegal stuff, especially stupidly illegal stuff in the belief that everybody does it and nobody's going to touch you) and #4 (if you really do anything illegal, don't make more enemies than you can afford) seem to fit the bill here.

Joi, this post gotta be one of your best. Excellent.

But the media in Japan never goes after a certain class of people - those in the ruling cabal and their subsidiary companies. The only celebrities they tear down, for example, are the ones from the wrong management groups, or dumb enough to leave the system (how much was Seiko Matusda bashed before she left Sun Music?).

With the kisha club system, the State has a tight grip on the media message, and with the media bundled into small congolmerates, they are powerless to the organizations that supply them with information.

No matter whether Horie is guilty or not, this is the weight of the entire 1955 system taking revenge on his actions - the LDP, the bureaucrats, the big media congolmerates. They don't care whether this is good for Japan - they just want to take back the reigns of power. Do you think the construction industry is less collusive and criminal than Livedoor? It's just that they fund the LDP.

"Japan, Inc." is a cliche, inaccurate phrase, but this looks like they've rolled out the State Capitalist army to crush the insurgents.

Great post.

Horie San was built up as a young gun taking on the old guard to advance the cause of young business people and to promote the use of technology in society. But the reality was that his company was about making money through complex transactions, acquisitions and hype. Whenever there is a such a huge reality gap between what people say you are and what you actually are, you can find yourself surrounded by people who suck up to you for the fake reality. I have seen it a number of times in the IT business in Japan. The catch 22 is that going with the fake reality actually can work better than doing business the right way. When Joi mentions "motorcades" I think he means figurative ones in addition to real ones. Going with the hype gets you invited to the best parties and introduced to the right people and they all want to hear your story, the fake one that is! Pretty soon you have built your own guillotine.


As a sub point to #1, I'd say be darn carefull when speaking to anyone who works for a media organization in any form in Japan. Non powerful individuals do not have any protection of law in regards to slander or liebel here. I've had first hand experience with my name and comments used without permission (as well as being horribly distorted) in what ended up being a best selling book. The best recourse I could manage was to have the text corrected after the second print run had already sold out.

Looking over the last year Horie-san seemed to be getting more and more public exposure. Recently there was hardly a day when you wouldn't see him on some TV program, almost like it was building up to something. I remember thinking that the Livedoor-Auto ad seemed to shout out, "Look at me! Look at me!". Once you gain that much exposure, everyone you know and everything you do or did comes under the microscope. I'm interested in how the investigation started. Who was the instigator?

I hate the way as soon as someone is in accused, the news broadcasts drop the "san" honorific and replace it with "yougisha" (suspect) though I was amused to see Suzuki Muneo telling the news program what the conditions in prison were like.

As the greeks said, Hubris is followed by Nemesis.

Very wise words. In my humble opinion, what works in Japan also works elsewhere, like Switzerland, a place that I happen to know.

I'm lucky enough to be an expatriate kiwi living in the United States. My american friends generally don't understand the phrase "tall poppy syndrome"; but anyone from the Commonwealth or, interstingly enough, Japan, does. The chappie above who wrote "Derukugi wa utareru" hit the nail on the head, analogy-wise.

The only thing I can see that Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Japan, South Africa and Great Britain all have in common is that each of us in the Commonwealth looks to a small island nation, which was historically beseiged on all sides by large and powerful enemies...

agree on many points, disagree on some.
Unfortunately I saw that posting only tonight, and it's too late to comment.
I think media is important, but there are more important issues than what you wanna look like in a tv or radio show. At the same time - writing things like "money can buy everything", etc., seems indeed quite silly.

In Australia, the term "Tall Poppy" was coined a while back to explain just this. Whenever anybody is thought to be too full of themselves, ie the tall poppy, they are cut down to size by those around them. In other countries, the high and mighty are celebraties that can do no wrong.. especially if they confess all on a talk show.

While I agree with the general sentiment here that Horie is being targeted by those in power because of what he stands for (including what seems to be a salvo in a generational war), that doesn't mean they didn't break the law.

And, the fact that others may have broken similar laws and gotten away with it is immaterial. Push envelopes too far to get where you are, and you can hardly complain when it all comes tumbling down, including the motives of those who may have pushed you.

In other words, the fact that people like us may have been rooting for Horie doesn't mean we shouldn't be pissed that he was an idiot. :)

Unfortunately, every point Joi made is correct. And because of this, Japan is locked in a circle going nowhere slowly.

You shouldn't talk to Japanese media. Japanese media only prints the most conservative stories approved by big business--unless of course the power players have targeted someone, or at least take protection away from someone. I used to wonder about certain things about Japan business/celebrity/media, etc. But after living there a while, I realize why Japan is the way it is. Knowing what you do about the way things are done in the West, I'm impressed that Joi has stayed in Japan. Tough/patient guy.

Along with Joi's Guarantor post, this is another reason why there is not really a stronger entreprenuer space in Japan. If you buck the system, the old heads smack you down (whether you did something wrong or not.)

To me, this whole situation has just pushed Japan's start-up business market back about ten years. What Japanese person in their right mind would dare try the bold things Horie did, after this big attack on his business by the old boys club?

Interesting, educational article.

The Asahi newspaper did a small piece on 'book-cooking-scandals' in recent years. I was surpised to find that the size Livedoor's alledged book-cooking came in at only about 10th place or lower, and orders of magnitude smaller than some others that passed relatively un-noticed.

From the size of the press coverate you'd think that Horie committed the worst business corruption in Japanese history, when in fact it appears that at worst he was pretty small fry, deep fried.


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