Do you trust your local television media? In Japan, some folks are suspicious of the country's television media. Here's why.
Previously, Kotaku reported how some television news segments appeared to be what's called "yarase" (ヤラセ) or "staged" (here and here), allegedly filled with phoney people pretending to be regular folks called "sakura." As previously explained, this "sakura" (偽客) literally means "fake customer" and is different from the "sakura" (桜) for cherry blossoms.
There is reason to be suspicious, as last year a variety show called Hokotate was cancelled after it was revealed to have been staged.
For television news in Japan, there are instances where it looks like random "person on the street" interviews are anything but. Conspiracy adherents say that the networks allegedly hire unknown actors or small-time performers to pose as regular folks and give good soundbites for news programs. Some people are shy! And camera crews might have a difficult time getting the answers they want to fit their narrative.
It appears as the same people are interviewed on different topics, sometimes by different networks, over the span of years. Honestly, what are the chances of that?
Here is a famous example of a man being interviewed about an array of topics, ranging from when a popstar was caught smoking to maid cafes. These seemingly random interviews were mixed in with other person-on-the-street interviews that were conducted for the same show, but over a span of time.
This image, courtesy of 2ch, Japan's largest forum, notes the variation in the man's outfits. Realize that in Japan, backpacks are an otaku trope.
What are the chances of this guy just happening upon the camera crew? At this point, you might be saying that this sounds like a crazy conspiracy theory. And maybe you are right! But, there appears to be other examples of what looks like the same people in similar situations.
Recently, after a female politician was harassed by a male colleague, news shows interviewed people on the street for their opinion.
Here is News 23 interviewing what is supposed to be just a regular citizen.
And...here is another news show interviewing the same woman on the street. The show is different, however, the network, which is TBS, is the same. And down the rabbit hole conspiracy theorists go!
As evident by the on-screen text, what she is saying looks to be the same, but slightly different. (I haven't heard the audio, so I can't say if this is just a matter of tweaked text.)
For conspiracy theorists, here's where things get odd. The same woman was then interviewed by NHK, an entirely different network. Dun, dun, dun.
There are other examples, such as a dude named "Butch," who once wrote "sakura" as his profession on his blog.
Here he is, first in line for a new iPhone. (He was also first in line for the Kinect in Japan.)
In the background of a popstar program.
And being interviewed as he waits for welfare. This was a while back, and Butch has since appeared in television commercials. Hopefully, he's doing just fine.
Then, there was this woman, who was introduced as a "woman currently looking for a job" for a news piece on it snowing in Tokyo. She says she thought about not going job hunting.
An hour later, another morning program on the same network introduced the woman as "a person commuting to work." Here, she says how difficult it is to walk, because of the snow. The discrepancy did not go unnoticed online in Japan, and people were quick to accuse these interviews as being staged.
But, out of all these alleged fakes, there is one that stands above them all. Recently, people online have referred to her as "itsumo no hito" (いつもの人) or "the regular." She's also known as "the professional extra." The woman, or several people that appear to look like her, seem to be interviewed for television a lot.
Here, she is simply referred to as a "fan" and is discussing the drug problems of Japanese popstar Aska.
In this shoot, people online in Japan note how she can be seen in the background for this shot. She's in the aqua color jacket. "She's in a different place from where she was interviewed for the show," wrote one 2ch commenter. "Maybe they're making plans?"
And here she, or people that look like her, are being interviewed on three separate occasions about different criminal cases (two of which also involve Japanese celebrities).
The woman is described as someone who came all the way from Kagawa Prefecture, a "fan" in another, and finally, someone who attended a hearing in which a death sentence was meted out.
Others online have allegedly spotted her, or someone who looks like her, filling out the background during television promotions.
"This kind of crap isn't going to fly in the 21st century," wrote another commenter on 2ch when discussing the alleged phenomena.
As noted on popular mainstream site Livedoor News, the odd thing is that allegedly this woman keeps appearing on the news, introduced with totally different names, ranging from Shiho Akimoto to Shiho Abika. She's apparently visited criminal trials in Tokyo from Kagawa, and in 2010, she was allegedly attending the World Cup in South Africa from Hiroshima Prefecture. This tweet, a compilation of her alleged television and media appearances, has been retweeted over eight thousand times.
But is this true? Is there really a grand conspiracy?
Recently, a magazine article from 2011 surfaced in which the woman, going by the name Shiho Akimoto, said that this was simply her hobby and that she liked the attention and meeting celebrities, especially ones involved in crimes or with criminal records. And you thought your hobby was interesting!
The writer of the article, Yuki Takahashi, denied to website IT Media that the media uses fake interviews, saying that if the Japanese media did use phonies for interviews, then it probably wouldn't use a person like her over and over again. But isn't that what has set off this conspiracy in the first place?
To contact the author of this post, write to bashcraftATkotaku.com or find him on Twitter @Brian_Ashcraft.
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