Tom Gill is a professor of social anthropology at the Faculty of International Studies in the Meiji Gakuin University, Yokohama. He specializes mainly in Japanese social issues, particularly casual labor, poverty, homelessness and minority issues. He was born in Portsmouth, United Kingdom, in 1960, and has been a professor at the Department of International Studies since April 2006.
For the Japanese popular culture symposium at the end of the year, Dr. Gill will be talking about Nikkan Gendai (“Daily Modern Times”), a tabloid evening newspaper that has a daily readership of 1.5 million, comprised mainly of middle-aged males.
Tobias Fong (TF): For the Japanese popular culture symposium at the end of the year, you have chosen to talk about Nikkan Gendai (“Daily Modern Times”). Can you please elaborate on Nikkan Gendai and why you are so interested in it?
Professor Tom Gill (PTG): These Japanese tabloid newspapers are always fun to look at. The readership is nearly all male. Hardly any women will buy Nikkan Gendai or its rival newspaper Yuukan Fuji. It’s nearly all men, and the typical way that the newspaper gets bought is when some guy finishes work at his office, and he’s tired, he’s had a hard day, he maybe has half an hour in a crowded commuter train to go home, and especially in Tokyo or Osaka, he buys a copy of Nikkan Gendai or Yuukan Fuji, and he reads it on the train. And most of these men won’t want their wives to see this newspaper because it has a lot of sex in it, as well as showbiz gossip and sports and stuff like that. So when they get off the train at the other end, they chuck it away in a bin.
TF: For the women, do they have their own newspapers or tabloids that are targeted at them?
PTG: That’s a very good question. Now, there’s no such thing as a daily tabloid newspaper specifically for women. Partly, I think that’s because it used to be the case that women were not expected to be going to work. And these tabloid papers are typically bought on the way home from work. What they do have is weekly magazines. Some of these women's magazines are very interesting and they are bought almost entirely by women the same way Nikkan Gendai and Yuukan Fuji are bought almost entirely by men. Very often they have the word “Woman” in their title, like Josei Jishin (Woman’s Self), or Josei Seven. If you look these magazines up, you will find that they have a similar sort of punchy tabloid, easy to read style. And again, they do slightly resemble the British tabloid media in that they like to cover the imperial family in Japan. And there is a lot of stuff relating to Hollywood film stars, Japanese film stars of course, and scandals. One of the things they have in a common with the men’s media is the stuff they have about health. Everyone is interested in reading about how to live longer or how to stop their hair falling out.
TF: What is usually written in Nikkan Gendai?
PTG: Nikkan Gendai has to appeal to readers and make them buy it and they do that by being very sensationalist. But their style of sensationalism is kind of interesting to me. They are very, very opposed to the establishment. They are an anti-establishment newspaper.
For most of the years from 1955 to the 2009, the biggest party in Japanese politics was the Liberal Democratic Party. Nikkan Gendai’s front page would always be a really biting attack on the LDP, on the government. And if you read this newspaper on one particular day, you might well think it was a left-wing newspaper (the LDP being fairly right-wing). “The government are idiots, they are incompetent, they are rubbish”, that sort of tone. But during the brief period in 1993 to 1995 when the Socialist Party actually got into the government in a coalition, Nikkan Gendai attacked that government as well. So it is not so much left-wing or right-wing, it just loves to attack the government.
TF: Are they attacking the current ruling party, the Democratic Party of Japan?
PTG: Absolutely. Nikkan Gendai says things about the present ruling government that could easily get them sued for libel in a lot of countries in the world. They call them "idiots, wicked," they accuse them of "leading Japan on the road to ruin”. They accuse the government of being weak-kneed, not standing up for Japan, where has their pride gone, stuff like that. When you hear that, it sounds very right-wing and nationalistic. So when the government is left-wing, Nikkan Gendai’s right-wing, and when the government is right-wing, Nikkan Gendai is left-wing. The point is that they have to attack.
And the guys who read Nikkan Gendai? They also mostly read one of the broadsheet newspapers in the morning. So in the morning, they will be reading one of the big five newspapers – all of which are generally well-mannered and polite. And in the evening, typically after a couple of drinks, they also buy Nikkan Gendai and they enjoy seeing the government really getting a punch in the face. And they will be going “damn right!” although that same morning they may have read a newspaper which has a very different view of the same thing.
TF: Do you think tabloids are related to masculinity in Japan, like newspapers are masculine whereas the magazines are feminine?
PTG: Absolutely. One of my impressions of Japan is that it is a really, really highly gendered society. Now I work at this Japanese university in Yokohama, I can’t help but notice when I walk through the lounge area or the ground floor of the building, there are students drinking coffee, doing homework or talking about stuff, whatever, probably four out of five of those tables has got only male students or only female students around them.
So it’s a highly gendered society. The famous mass-circulation newspapers – they are not particularly aimed at one gender or another. However, these tabloid papers, most women would be very embarrassed if anybody saw them holding a copy of one of them. Likewise, no men would want to be seen carrying a magazine named Woman’s Self. I do think Nikkan Gendai can tell us something about masculinity in Japan – it is sort of a place where the frustrations that that salaryman has built up during the day can be vented. During the day, he'll be polite, obedient, listening to what his boss says, wearing a neat suit and tie, polished shoes, always having to behave the right way, bow the right number of degrees, use the right level of polite language…when he finishes his work, he has a few beers, he loosens his tie, he buys a copy of Nikkan Gendai – Yuukan Fuji is very similar only more overtly right-wing – and he gets on the train and it’s sex, it’s sports, it’s sort of an explosion of discontent and anger at the government and bureaucrats, and it’s where these men can let it all hang out a bit.