Japan's weeklies: Where porn meets politics

Japan's weeklies: Where porn meets politics

How Friday magazine and other weeklies print the stuff the mainstream papers don't
japan media magazines scandal
Friday magazine sits to the side of the day's newspapers on a standard Tokyo newstand.

For news junkies, Japan can seem a difficult place to get a fix. Often, major media outlets will all carry the same stories, with few variations between the reports that appear in the biggest-selling newspapers, television and online outlets. 

Enter the weekly magazines. With a mix of politics, gossip and often porn, these publications, largely targeted at the male market, are the home of scoops, scandal and scantily clad women. 


Friday, a weekly that focuses on celebrity gossip, is one such magazine.

And while it has seen its sales decline to around 200,000 copies per issue, from a peak of 500,000-600,000 in the 1990s, the figures would still be the envy of most print media companies in other countries.

Jun Oyaizu, who has worked as an editor at Friday for eight years, says: “Friday magazine is a similar to America’s People. But in Friday there is much more than there is in People. Our readers get a combination of that magazine with something like Time and a music magazine.

“But magazines such as Time and Newsweek are very specific in their content. For Japanese weeklies, one magazine will include politics, economics, entertainment and nudity. There are no magazines like this in the United States,” says Oyaizu.

japan media magazines scandalStanding and reading is accepted by book stores across the country.

Dishing the dirt

Entering the offices of Kodansha, the publishing company that owns Friday, one is struck by the grandeur of the building. This is not the dilapidated and tobacco-stained scruffy two-story hovel that one may expect to house a magazine that deals in sleaze, porn and gossip.

It is a statement of power: large, expensive and very corporate. 

Heading to the floor of Friday, things become less surprising. Posters of barely legal bikini-clad girls adorn the walls before you enter the office. And then things become dour.

The editors’ desks would be more befitting of a travel agency, and there is little on the walls to give away that this office has churned out to the public the dirty secrets of Japan’s politicians and celebrities.

A recent issue dished the dirt on actor Shun Oguri, who is in a relationship with actress Yu Yamada, appearing to leave a love hotel with another woman.

japan media magazines scandalAn advertisement for Friday seems to have a headline for everyone.

Where the newspapers won't go

“It can be said that in many ways the weeklies can act as something of a supplement to the regular daily papers,” says Brett Bull, who runs the website Tokyo Reporter. “They will cover stories that the regular dailies won't touch.

“As a result, corporations, law enforcement, politicians and sports stars, for example, are sometimes kept in line. I think the recent sumo-baseball-betting scandal is a perfect example,” Bull adds.

That story saw the sumo world connected to gangsters, as wrestlers were revealed to have been betting through gangs.

japan media magazines scandalThe Japanese may love their phones, but they read more than any other nation too.

Balancing act

Oyaizu admits that weeklies act as a useful counterbalance to Japan’s daily newspapers. “Newspaper journalists tell us they can get about 40 percent of the stuff they know printed. The rest of the stories come to the weeklies.”

Getting that other 60 percent into public is a major part of the work that the editors at Friday do.

“One of the biggest jobs at a weekly is to meet with the people that work at the major media organizations and get information from them. We use that to create the stories that regular newspapers cannot print. And of course, on many occasions journalists from the big newspapers will write for us -- Friday and the other weeklies -- on the side," says Oyaizu. 

But the stories that are published can have serious consequences.

Perhaps the most dramatic story of article gone bad came in 1986, when the magazine alleged that TV personality and director “Beat” Takeshi Kitano was having an affair with a college coed.

The actor, along with colleagues including outgoing Miyazaki Governor Hideo “Sonomanma” Higashikokubaru, attacked the magazine’s offices in response. 

japan media magazines scandalA recent cover of Friday magazine.

Stepping over the line

“There was an editor who made a mistake, and this led to tensions,” says Oyaizu.

“But the circulation of the magazine went from 1,500,000 to 800,000. When readers found out about some of the things that go on behind the scenes at entertainment magazines, they perceived us in a different way.”

In consequence, Takeshi’s group of attackers were all sentenced to six months in jail, suspended for two years, while Kitano would later divorce his wife.

Oyaizu was reluctant to discuss the methods employed by the magazine in order to get its photo scoops, but Yumika Narikiyo, a young female journalist with the magazine, offers an idea on how investigations work.

When asked about her role in what seems to be a sexist company, she says, “People don’t expect it from me. They expect older guys to write for Friday, so I can get closer to stories.”

japan media magazines scandalReaders can stand for hours without bother.

The net effect

That incident involving Kitano was to cause a drop in magazine sales, but the advent of the Internet was to have a much harsher effect on Japan’s media landscape. 

“Of course, readership is falling and things are not as good as they could be, but it is currently nowhere near as bad as the West here,” says Oyaizu.

“But nonfiction writers are struggling because of the decline of monthly magazines, and this is likely to have a big impact on society. I was in the United States at the time of Barack Obama’s presidential victory, yet as much as I tried to find analysis in Japanese, there was not a lot worth reading. There are of course blogs and websites, but these are nowhere near the quality of what you get from print media at the moment.”

While this may be the case now, the future may not be quite as bad, with Friday's editor pointing out that the average reader may be here for the longer term.

“The place we sell the most copies of our magazine is the Kiosk stores in train stations, followed by convenience stores. We also sell a few copies at book stores, but people are generally buying Friday on their way to work. It seems a large number of our readers would feel uncomfortable buying hardcore pornography on their way to work, but are happy to grab a Friday” says Oyaizu.

“The Internet is going to skyrocket over the next decade, but in Japan, people may still hold an affection for feeling paper in their hands, so magazines will survive in some form,” says Oyaizu.