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Tokyo’s Tough New Governor is Picking all the Right Battles

My first piece for Japan Forward, the new English language site launched by the Sankei Shimbun earlier this week, has been published. It’s about Koike Yuriko, the new governor of Tokyo, and the uncompromising stances she’s been taking against corruption and crony politics in the large projects she inherited from her predecessors.

Japan Forward is a little rough around the edges for the moment – the site is officially still in beta and is certainly still finding its feet both in terms of design and functionality, and in terms of content – but the hope is that it’ll become a good forum for balanced, informed discussion of contemporary Japanese politics, policy and society. The Sankei Shimbun has a (deserved) reputation as a nationalist paper, but the staff involved with Japan Forward seem committed to developing a nuanced, credible and diverse publication with a distinctive identity, not “Sankei English Edition”.

I don’t agree with the Sankei’s editorial line on a whole lot, but one view we do share is that English language coverage of Japan is something of a monotone echo chamber – a relatively small number of like-minded people (some of whom I respect greatly, I should say) tend to quote one another around and around in a narrow circle that excludes other views and tends, as such echo chambers do, to spiral in towards some quite hardline viewpoints. “Abe is a Fascist” is a fine poster to wave at a street demonstration; as an editorial line in a respected publication, it’s not only questionable, it’s arguably irresponsible at a time when other countries are electing, or appointing, genuine fascists to positions of power.

My hope, though I am merely a contributor and not on the site’s staff, is that Japan Forward will provide a counterpoint to that kind of coverage – not by trotting out equally extreme viewpoints from the other side of the spectrum, but by highlighting, explaining and signal-boosting the centrist, mainstream political discourse of Japan that’s often lost in English-language coverage.

Assuming all goes well with the site, it probably means I’ll be posting a little less political material on this blog (and probably a bit more technical information related to machine learning and natural language processing, which are core foci of my doctoral research at the moment). For those following through RSS, though, I’ll be sure to post links to any pieces that are published on Japan Forward as they appear.