Michiya Matsuoka. Japanese collective ‘atmosphere’ and the power of the media.

May 29, 2014

In John Menadue’s blog of 31 March, 2014, he expressed strong concern for recent events concerning Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, and warned that Japan was fast approaching a nationalistic agenda and revisionist view of history. (See re-post today)

I have these same misgivings about Japan and fully agree with John Menadue’s concern, including the role and responsibility of NHK (the Japanese public broadcaster similar to the Australian ABC and British BBC).

Although NHK is an independent corporation, its annual budget is subject to review and approval by the Diet.

A twelve member Board of Governors oversees NHK and makes final decisions. Under the Board of Governors, NHK is managed on a full-time basis by an Executive Board.  The new Director General of the Executive Board is Katsuto Momii, a very close friend of Prime Minister Abe.  Abe also appointed another four members of the Board of Governors.

On Katsuto Momii’s first day as Director General, 25th January 2014, he asked all members of the Executive Board to submit “a resignation paper with signature and without date” – which they did. In April, Momii withdrew the resignation papers following criticism by the public.  At the press conference on the same day, Momii said it was his personal view that the recruitment of comfort women during WWII was not a problem. He also said that current members of the Executive Board were appointed by the former Director General – and as the new Director General, he would do things in his own way.

In February, Naoki Hyakuta, a new member of the Board of Governors close to PM Abe, spoke in support of a candidate for governor of Tokyo Metropolitan, the ex-Chief of Staff of the Air Self Defence Force. Hyakuta has been reported as saying that the Tokyo War Crimes Trial was designed to “fool people”.

Another new member of the NHK Board of Governors, Ms Michiyo Hasegawa, a philosopher and University Professor Emeritus, whilst claiming that the public broadcaster is politically neutral, wrote an article praising a right-wing activist who committed suicide. She also attracted public dispute in January this year saying “Women’s most important job is to give birth and raise children. Women should prioritise children more than actively working outside”.

The new Director General and members of the NHK Board of Governors are known to share PM Abe’s views on amending the Constitution, his interpretation of history and his visit to Yasukuni Shrine – among other things.

As a citizen, I am extremely worried that NHK, the most influential public media outlet which should be politically neutral, might be leading Japan in the wrong direction.

Why do these new members continue to speak out and take actions that do not respect NHK’s essential political neutrality? Why did all the members of the NHK Executive Board submit their resignation papers to the newly-appointed Director General Momii, without hesitation?

We can find a key to answering these questions in a book widely read in Japan for nearly half a century.  In 1977 Shichihei Yamamoto, a prolific Japanese writer, wrote “’Kuuki’ no Kenkyuu”, usually translated as ‘The Study of the Atmosphere’ – where ‘kuuki’ or ‘atmosphere’ refers to a collective socialised mentality that Japanese people are said to feel or share without actually questioning its basis. Yamamoto pointed out that this ‘atmosphere’ is created by leaders and has the power to lead people as a group in a particular direction without any logic or contention.  I believe many Japanese people tend to make decisions influenced by this ‘atmosphere’ without thinking logically or accepting scientific data – especially if they belong to influential groups or organisations. Yamomoto’s thesis is that ‘atmosphere’ allows overwhelming emotions and group pressure to transcend logical behaviour.

NHK’s series of incidents may well be the result of ‘atmosphere’, created by PM Abe, who has the power and authority, supported by the majority of Diet seats and the support of his Cabinet (51% as of April 2014).

I am very concerned that NHK, managed and overseen by Director General Momii and other PM Abe supporters, will take us in a dangerous direction.  Influenced by NHK, the largest public media outlet, the Japanese people may be caught up in Abe’s ‘atmosphere’ and become incited towards war.


Michiya Matsuoka is a former executive of a major advertising agency in Japan. He was also CEO of the agency in Australia from 1989 to 1993 after nine years in New York.

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