Japanese Media Overview Term Paper

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Japanese media overview

Physically, the mass media in Japan are quite similar to those in any developed nation, although perhaps somewhat more advanced. In organizational structure, however, Japanese media are unique. Individual elements of the Japanese media mix may resemble counterparts in other nations, but the combination is purely Japanese.

The primary characteristics of Japanese mass media are the influence of the national daily newspapers and the Japan Broadcasting Corporation (Nihon Hoso Kyokai, or NHK) and the relative lack of localism.

The importance of newspapers

Japanese media are dominated by five national daily newspapers. The Asahi, Mainichi, Nihon Keizai, Sankei and Yomiuri Shimbun (newspaper) all publish both a morning and an evening edition, with total circulation of more than 40 million copies per day (Cooper-Chen, 1997, p. 53). Of the world s ten highest daily circulation newspapers, the top three are Japanese, with the fourth highest having a circulation of just over one-third of the circulation of the Yomiuri Shimbun (The United States is not represented in this list) (Cooper-Chen, 1997, p. 54). It is not surprising that Japan has the highest ratio of newspapers to people in the world, with 578 copies per day for every 1000 people (Cooper-Chen, 1997, p. 52).

Local newspapers are smaller than the nationals, and many are published only once or twice a week, even in cities with populations above 100,000. However, the national newspapers all have regional sections.

The national daily newspapers are also involved in other media. All of the commercial television networks are either affiliated with or owned by a national newspaper (Cooper-Chen, 1997, p. 115). They are also heavily involved in radio broadcasting, although their presence is less influential.

Japanese book and magazine readership are also quite impressive. In addition, Japan has a thriving comic book, or manga, industry. Japanese comic books are for all ages and all types of people. One can see people reading manga in restaurants, coffee shops, trains, buses, even schools and offices. Sales of manga for 1984 totaled 297 billion yen (US$ 1.2 billion), although this figure does not include any of the income from manga-related products (Schodt, 1986, p. 138).

Nature of television broadcasting

There are five major commercial and two public television networks in Japan. The public networks, Nippon Hoso Kyokai (NHK) general and education, are funded by annual license fees paid for every television set in the country. Although NHK is an independent entity, it enjoys a close and favored relationship with the government. NHK is modeled after the British Broadcasting Corporation in many ways. NHK also oversees radio networks, including shortwave broadcasts. In addition, NHK runs a publishing arm that prints workbooks that accompany its educational programs and guidebooks that provide additional insight into its historical dramas.

On average, Japanese citizens watch over three hours of television per day. The average Japanese television set is turned on for eight hours and eight minutes per day (Cooper-Chen, 1997, p. 105). 54.9 percent of Japanese citizens surveyed by NHK (1995) watch at least three hours of television per day on average. Generally speaking, Japan is a heavy television viewing nation.

Local broadcasting is relatively uncommon in Japan. With a population approaching 200 million, there are barely more than 100 local affiliates of national television networks, with these local affiliates carrying the network schedule for 70 to 90 percent of the broadcast day (Cooper-Chen, 1997, p. 113). Large cities, such as Tokyo and Osaka, certainly get a great amount of local broadcasting, whereas a city of more than 250,000 (Mito in Ibaraki prefecture) has no local television broadcasting, but retransmits a signal from Tokyo, 100 km away.

Retransmission is the nature of Japanese television broadcasting. Of the 1,502 VHF and 9,453 UHF television stations operating in 1992, NHK used 1,113 and 5,338 of them, respectively, to retransmit its signals (DeMente, 1992, p. 276). The remaining stations were operated by 46 commercial broadcasting companies, with the majority owned by the big five commercial networks NTV, TBS, Fuji, ABC and TV Tokyo (Cooper-Chen, 1997, p. 113).

Other traditional media

NHK was the only player in broadcasting until 1950. Commercial radio broadcasts began in that year. Growth continued steadily so that by the end of the decade, all of Japan could receive both NHK and commercial radio broadcasts (Cooper-Chen, 1997, p.108). Localism is more common in radio broadcasting than in television. Most cities of even moderate size have their own radio station. As of 1992, there were 1,018 radio stations in Japan. 504 were AM stations, 491 were FM stations and 23 were short-wave stations. NHK owns 315 of the AM stations, 484 of the FM stations and 21 of the short-wave stations (DeMente, 1992, pp. 239-240).

Starting in 1970, mini-FM radio stations began broadcasting in densely populated areas. Although these stations had signals that only carried a kilometer, they could reach thousands of people in urban areas. An incident in 1985 resulted in the arrest of a mini-FM broadcaster and, since that time, mini-FMs have become much less common (Cooper-Chen, 1997, p. 109).

New media

It is ironic that Japan, a nation with a high-tech image, until very recently had one of the lowest rates of Internet use. A 1996 study found that Japan had only three percent of the world s Internet-connected computers (Cooper-Chen, 1997, p. 221). The United States had 70 percent. This is a great disparity, but is worded ambiguously. Stated differently (and taking into account the relative proportions of computer ownership), Japan was only one-tenth as wired as the United States. Some of the reasons for this: Computer ownership is, by some estimates (Cooper-Chen, 1997, p. 221) more than three times more common in the United States than in Japan; Japan s telephone company (NTT) was extremely slow in meeting customer needs; Internet expenses were considerably higher in Japan; and there was very little Japanese content on the Internet. More recently, Internet adoption has picked up its pace in Japan (Cooper-Chen, 1997, pp. 221-222).

In other ways, Japan is a technological trendsetter. It began HDTV broadcasts in 1989 (under the direction of NHK), although only 2.1 percent of households in Japan had a receiver in 1995 (NHK, 1995, p. 17). It had major a DBS system in place in the same year (under the direction of NHK) (Cooper-Chen, 1997, pp. 218-219). Satellite receiver penetration was 27.9 percent in 1995 (NHK, 1995, p.17). Cable television penetration, however, is relatively low, with figures varying between 7 percent (NHK, 1995, p. 17) and 25 percent (Cooper-Chen, 1997, p. 107).


Cooper-Chen, A. (1997). Mass Communication in Japan. Ames: Iowa State University Press.

DeMente, B. (1992). Everything Japanese. Chicago: Passport Books.

NHK (1995). The Japanese and Television. Tokyo: NHK Public Opinion Research Division.

Schodt, F. (1986). Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics. Tokyo: Kodansha.

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