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Geeks and creeps in no name land: triangulating anonymity, 2channel and Densha Otoko Youssef, Sandra 2009

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Geeks and Creeps in No Name Land: Triangulating Anonymity, 2channel and Densha Otoko by  SANDRA YOUSSEF B.A., Mount Holyoke College, 2004  A THESIS SUBMITTED IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF MASTER OF ARTS in THE FACULTY OF GRADUATE STUDIES (Anthropology)  THE UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA (Vancouver)  October 2009  © Sandra Youssef, 2009  ABSTRACT This thesis examines anonymity online by analyzing the Japanese story “Densha Otoko” in the context of its locus of origin, the online forum 2channel. I argue that the collaborative value of the Densha Otoko narrative hinges on the technological infrastructure provided by its host forum. This infrastructure not only arises from specific technology developments, but also in turn emphasizes freedom of expression over identification. Focusing on the values linked to, and socialities engendered by anonymity in computer-mediated communication, I argue that: First, anonymity is popularly viewed as creating negative results for society at large, as expressed in public opinion of 2ch in general. However, anonymity can also be portrayed as having positive results for individuals, for example in the Densha Otoko narrative specifically. Secondly, anonymity on 2channel – in conjunction with other infrastructural aspects – facilitates ‘individual’ expression and creates a locus for freedom of speech via the elimination of personal identification. Finally, anonymity, in this case study, engenders sociality by drawing on notions of security and privacy.  ii  TABLE OF CONTENTS ABSTRACT ......................................................................................................................ii TABLE OF CONTENTS..................................................................................................iii ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ................................................................................................iv I.  INTRODUCTION ...................................................................................................... 1  II. SELF, ANONYMITY, SECURITY AND PRIVACY ................................................ 6 III. 2CHANNEL, TRAIN MAN AND ANONYMITY .................................................. 24 IV. TECHNOLOGY AND ANONYMITY..................................................................... 33 V. CONCLUSION ........................................................................................................ 43 BIBLIOGRAPHY ........................................................................................................... 46  iii  ACKNOWLEDGMENTS There are many people to whom I find myself deeply indebted at the end of this journey. I would like to express my most sincere respect and gratitude to my supervisor, Dr. Millie Creighton, who has guided me with unfailing honesty, and shared some wonderful cups of coffee with me. Dr. Patrick Moore has been of invaluable help, as committee member, sounding board and provider of food for thought as well as literal sustenance. Thanks go equally to Dr. David Edgington, who graciously joined my committee on such short notice, gave me a different perspective, and with whom I have shared a few very enjoyable bus rides over the years. Dr. Michael Blake has facilitated the navigation of this thesis process, and Dr. Brian Chisholm has contributed highly thoughtful comments. For spending time together, exchanging thoughts, discussing passionately, sharing smiles as well as articles I would like to thank Dr. Jon Beasley-Murray (who tore through this thesis like a pirate on a raid), Dr. Renisa Mawani, Dr. Bill McKellin, Dr. Bruce Miller, Dr. Anand Pandian, Dr. David Ryniker, Dr. Tom Kemple, and Dr. Felice Wyndham. You have made a very deep impact on me. For helping in so many different ways to navigate university, visa application, health insurance procedures, above and beyond the call of duty, my heartfelt thanks go to Radicy Braletic, Kyla Hicks, Michele Jayasinha, and Dan Naidu (who has accompanied me as a good friend these last few years). For supporting me through their friendship, great debates, greater outings, food for thought, thesis advice and so many more things without which Vancouver would have been merely the city of rain, I am grateful to Natalie Baloy, Eleni Berger, Bonar Buffam (wingman and stupefying editor), Marie-Eve Carrier-Moisan, William Flynn, Dylan Gordon, Susan Hicks (who edits amazingly), Cornel Pop, Ofelia Ros, Larry van der Est, Ana Vivaldi (the other wingwoman in this unlikely combination), and Rafael Wainer. I would like to offer this piece to my family, who waited so patiently for me to finish, and have helped support me financially in dire straits; to the Internet and all its residents: anonymous, pseudonymous, and – even more importantly, because I am one of them, and no one writes of us – lurkers.  iv  I. INTRODUCTION One of the most intriguing properties of anonymity is precisely its disembodied nature. Anonymity is often viewed as negative or threatening when it is coupled with action; for instance, the lack of faces or names is disconcerting when we are confronted with a (potentially hostile) crowd. Conversely, anonymous spaces in online as well as offline venues (such as online support groups or Alcoholics Anonymous gatherings) are also perceived as empowering people and having a positive impact on an individual level. In literature studies, texts written by ‘Anonymous’ authors have been drawn on to analyze key questions such as authorship (for example Buurma 2008) or ownership and fame in different cultural contexts (Lefevere 1992:27). The Japanese narrative Densha Otoko (or ‘Train Man’ in English) is an online collaborative work of exchanges between anonymous forum users, eventually edited into novel form by one such online user and then published (Nakano 2004). Not merely an anonymously created literary work, it is rather the corporeal and thus tangible product of anonymity as a mode of sociality, cohesively linked to the technological and sociocultural environment in which it was conceived. This thesis examines anonymity online as a mode of sociality in the case of Densha Otoko and the online forum it was conceived in, 2channel, by analyzing its technological features and social impact, as well as the more theoretical links between anonymity, security and privacy. I argue that anonymity, as a mode of communication, is itself value-free, but the ways in which it is used online can be perceived as either good or bad. I use the case study of Densha Otoko and 2channel to show the ways in which technology facilitates anonymous expressions, and in turn the positive and negative associations linked to these. In this thesis, I try to provide an anthropological perspective to discourse on anonymity online while utilizing social psychology, in highlighting the importance of a deeper understanding of the cultural dynamic, and therefore incorporating an anthropological linkage that includes Japan in analyses of Internet anonymity. This thesis also introduces insights from other fields, specifically social psychology and  1  computer-related studies, to anthropology, where anonymity online is just beginning to emerge as a theme of interest. Due to its scope, not all sources can be fully incorporated into this text. My research has encompassed, to name a few areas: the Densha Otoko novel, movie, TV show, one comic version, various Densha Otoko discussions which were not included in the novel, websites and blog posts discussing the reality of the Train Man as well as reader and viewer reactions to the narrative. I have also examined interviews with 2channel’s founder, discussions of 2channel in Japanese as well as English-language media sources including newspapers and a radio show, and replications of the 2channel forum style in English-language contexts, videos and messages produced by a group titled “Anonymous” springing from these replication forums. Generated on the Japanese online forum 2channel, Densha Otoko (電車男) may be considered a heartwarming and powerful – as well as allegedly ‘real’ – narrative. Posting anonymously on a discussion thread 1 for single men in 2004, a self-proclaimed typical Japanese otaku (an extreme fan of comics, games etc. with connotations of social ineptitude similar to the concept of ‘geeks’ in English, but even more derogatory) solicited the help of other 2channel online users over the span of several months in the pursuit of romance. He excitedly narrates in his first post how, for once in his life, he had shown courage: He had stood up to and stopped a drunk man on the train who was sexually harassing a group of middle-aged women, and one young woman. Soon, Densha Otoko, who was given this nickname by other users, signed back on and recounted that he had received a thank-you gift from the young woman, a set of expensive Hermès teacups. Feeling an inkling of hope at having connected to a woman for the first time in his 22 years, Densha Otoko turns to the thread readers for help. They coax him into calling the woman, whom they refer to as Hermes, and inviting her for dinner. Giving advice on a makeover, hair-cut, clothing, and reminding him to shower, pluck his eye brows, and trim his nose 1  The terms ‘discussion thread’ or ‘threaded discussion’ refer to the way in which software displays electronic discussions for its users by visually grouping together messages, usually by topic. Each such group of messages under a single topic is called a topic thread or, more commonly, ‘thread’.  2  hair, the anonymous users of the thread, send Densha Otoko on his way to his first date – which is successful. Watching over Densha Otoko and his progress for several months, the thread participants break out in congratulations and well wishes when he confesses his love to Hermes, and is received favorably – a ‘miraculous story’ of one of Japan’s super geeks experiencing true love, with the help of many anonymous online forum users. Marketed as a ‘true’ love story, the Train Man narrative enjoyed a wide dissemination and publicity across various fictionalized formats after its publication as a novel in 2004. I often have to pause in conversation with Japanese colleagues and students when asked about my research; the response is invariably unbelieving laughter, as Densha Otoko is commonly taken at face value as a ‘sweet’ pop culture story, that is not only unverifiable but also slightly passé. Despite the fact that the veracity of the protagonist’s identity and narrative remains unverified, the value of the narrative as a collaboration between numerous anonymous users is significant as a document of anonymous online sociality. Furthermore, aspects of the narrative have dug themselves firmly into the patchwork fabric of everyday Japanese popular culture. As I watch Arashi, one of the many staple idol boybands so ubiquitous in Japanese media, in a TV show from 2005 help a self-titled otaku make a love confession on the same rooftop as the Densha Otoko of the TV drama adaptation, I am not astonished that there would be a re-enactment only one year after the story had come out and in the same year as its screen version (Nihon TV 2005). As I listen to a completely unrelated latenight radio show from 2008, however, I am amazed as the phrase “finding my own Hermes” is used in one segment about love (Nippon Broadcasting System 2008). Has Hermes, the nickname given Densha Otoko’s love interest, become a synonym for that elusive concept of pure and true love? Though Densha Otoko seems to have acquired a following similar to other cult TV-shows and movies, its fame should not be overestimated: As with so many other popular TV dramas and movies it came, made an impact, and departed. Regardless, it has left its mark on the texture of popular culture, and has contributed to significant trends in the Japanese publishing industry.  3  Japan’s online forum 2channel (2ちゃんねる – ni channeru, hereafter shortened to its common abbreviation 2ch) is the largest Internet forum in the world, with an average of about 2.5 million posts every day (2channel 2009, Nielsen//NetRatings 2006) and ranked internationally in terms of online traffic on any given site at an average position of 150 in the world (Alexa 2009). It has over 600 individual sub-boards, an online equivalent of ‘bulletin boards’ and a space for online message exchanges, with themes ranging from ‘international affairs’ to ‘coffee and tea’. This online forum is unique not only by virtue of its sheer size and popularity (it receives more hits daily than any major Japanese newspaper site) but also for its heavy text-based layout, which differs completely from highly image- and layout-centric ‘Western’ online fora. The images and art favored on 2ch are ASCII, text-based art. More importantly, perhaps, and one of the features that differentiates 2ch from most English language online fora, is the freedom to post completely anonymously. There is no process of registration nor email verification to identify individual users. Among the flood of daily postings on a plethora of subjects, racist messages, libelous statements and crime announcements have come to public attention and given 2ch a notorious reputation. Thus media reports, by depicting 2ch as a lawless or at least unregulated space, are in fact implicitly informed by and continuously perpetuate the notion of a disembodied anonymity from which may arise tangible social threats. Between an unwieldy, infamous and ill-reputed online forum, and a charming, if somewhat trivial, love story that may or may not be ‘real’ (though, personally, I tend to think it is not), the questions that beg to be asked lie necessarily in the interstices between these two social modalities. One central aspect of 2ch, which features prominently in cases of racism and libel on one hand, and the inception of the Densha Otoko story on the other hand is of course its fundamental feature of anonymity. My premise is that 2ch, a venue for information and opinion exchange rather than for the formation of ‘enduring’ social ties, would not function without anonymity. Furthermore, the story of Densha Otoko could not have been created nor so  4  successfully distributed in another, more controlled or less anonymous venue. By re-establishing the story’s connection to its place of origin, it becomes possible to contextualize its conception within the architectural and cultural properties of 2ch, as well as to lay open the deeper connections between 2ch, Densha Otoko and Japanese society. In the same way that the Train Man story itself is tied to the forum in which it was generated, Densha Otoko and 2ch’s fundamental links to anonymity must be considered in light of their online setting. As it is not merely an anonymous text that was written and published, but a collaborative narrative conceived through social exchanges, I am drawn to examine the role of anonymity as social modality. Anonymity online can foster a variety of identity expressions, negative as well as positive, and while still largely unresearched, it has to date been charted primarily by scholars within social psychology, who contribute valuable insight to online anonymity by linking it to such concepts as security, privacy and trust. Their texts also explore both negative and positive effects of anonymous interactions by pointing out that anonymity may induce deindividuation, but also may serve to explore identity. This polarity mirrors public attention towards 2ch and Densha Otoko, which highlights respectively the former’s status as a disembodied breeding ground of potential social threats and the latter’s tangible individual achievement and success. Anthropologists have only recently explored this topic, and while visual anthropologist and digital ethnographer Michael Wesch is holding a class around anonymity online at the time of writing (Spring 2009), I know of no published texts on the topic within the discipline as of yet. As can be glimpsed in the following chapter, utilizing literature from within psychology is not unproblematic: besides its tendencies towards limiting and simplifying categories of anonymity, specifically online, many of these limiting variables, while clearly valuable from a psychological perspective, do not necessarily highlight areas important to anthropology or sociology, such as relations or practices. While there are clearly variations in anonymous contexts and environments, many of them too nuanced to approach non-anthropologically, it would be an oversight to ignore  5  the only body of literature that has explored this precise thematic systematically. More importantly, I choose to use social and identity psychology here precisely due to the relevance of its theories to 2ch, a site that operationalizes total anonymity to such a large degree, and unburdened by such nuances as visual anonymity or pseudonymity, that it may be considered subject to the very processes outlined within the relevant social psychology discussions. It is these processes that will allow a deeper consideration of anonymity within 2ch. This thesis then is organized in five chapters: 1. Introduction; 2. Self, Anonymity, Security and Privacy; 3. 2channel, Train Man and Anonymity; 4. Technology and Anonymity; and 5. Conclusion. In the following section (chapter two), I draw on literature from psychology as well as from Japanese studies to point towards security and privacy as elements of computermediated anonymity, which are nonetheless inalienable from offline contexts. In chapter three, I focus on media portrayal of 2channel and Densha Otoko both nationally and internationally and discuss more specifically the controversy behind the Train Man’s existence and the narrative’s social, economic and sociopolitical impact on and links to mainstream Japanese culture, as well as the question of whether current technologies contribute to a significant cultural change. This question is also clarified by the subsequent discussion of technology in chapter four, which deals with the ways in which technological structures inform social modalities. I also discuss technological developments in Japan and the ways in which anonymity links back to notions of ‘freedom of speech’ and ‘security’ in chapter four, followed by the conclusions in chapter five. II. SELF, ANONYMITY, SECURITY AND PRIVACY The existing literature on anonymity online discussed in this section, because it stems from the subdisciplines of social psychology and personality psychology, concerns itself predominately with connections between anonymity and the self, though that self is not (with the exception of one text discussed further on) necessarily discussed in terms of cultural context. In order to deal with anonymity in this case study, it is necessary to establish a cultural context for a  6  discussion of the specificities of the sense of self. In texts arising from the social sciences, Japanese society has been traditionally described as collectivist, interdependent, and with a socialization towards group activity (for example Creighton 1990, Doi 1971, Kondo 1990 and Lebra 1992). The main focus of these discussions lies in highlighting the inseperable links between self and society in general, and on a smaller level self and its relationships specifically. Kondo, for instance, discusses Japanese selves and interactions as contextually constructed and relational; one is, she argues, “’always already’ caught in webs of relationships … where relationships define one, and enable one to define others” (Kondo 1990:26). These conceptualizations of Japan do not only refer to group-based relations, but are often associated with notions of in-groups (uchi) and out-groups (soto), and maintaining a front (omote) versus associating freely (ura). These concepts are not perceived as static or bounded zones of behaviour. Instead, they are perceived as fluid and constantly changing depending on the situational context. Thus behaviour, language and representation are, as is frequently argued, subject to the immediate context, placing an emphasis on the relational (and contextualized) aspect of the Japanese self (see also Hendry 1993 and Creighton 1997). The term ‘collectivism’ in general use or with specific application to Japan is often, usually by non-anthropologists, as I demonstrate in the following discussion, simplified and perhaps rendered fallacious; ‘collectivism’ in this context should neither deny nor denounce the existence of a self. Anthropologists working in Japan do not see the interrelational model or ‘embedded self’ as nonapplicable for the Western context, and, in fact, consider it as an alternate avenue to approach the concept of self.2  2  Several anthropologists consider their prior viewpoint of self and self versus society as already biased in a direction that implies the existence of a self as independent ‘core’ or bounded essence. They narrate that their experiences in Japan have contributed to altering their approach of self at large (i.e. not merely in the context of Japan) as mutually constitutive with social relations; the use of the Japanese case studies is in fact to illustrate an alternate theoretical approach to self versus society as a contribution to the discipline. Hendry highlights the value of layers of wrapping, as opposed to the act of ‘unwrapping’ (Hendry 1993:46); Kondo underlines the permeability of self (Kondo 1990:26), and writes against the self versus society binary (33-42); and Bachnik draws on a variety of sources including Hendry (1993), Pierre Bourdieu,  7  Besides setting the background to a discussion of anonymity within a Japanese setting, another reason to have introduced the cultural context here is to facilitate a clarification and critique of some basic assumptions within texts dealing with anonymity from a psychological perspective. Coming from the field of psychology, Buchholz and Morio (2007) discuss the links between deindividuation and anonymity, and the influence of specific cultural backgrounds (US vs. Japan) on a propensity towards anonymity. They argue that Japanese cultural values on encouraging interdependence and collectivism inform an increased propensity toward anonymity. There are, however, several problems with Buchholz and Morio’s paper that must be discussed. Here, I address some problems raised by the article in relation to cultural context specifically. It is within the context of psychological literature, which places emphasis on the self, deindividuation and the ways in which anonymity affects pro- or anti-social behaviour, that Buchholz’s and Morio’s (2007) article on anonymity in Japanese and English online fora should be placed. Both authors are addressing their questions and analysis weighted towards key topics within their discipline generally, and psychological anonymity literature specifically. In the context of an anthropological analysis, there are several problems that emerge specifically in their cultural analysis. The authors base their argument partly on SIDE model (Social Identity model of Deindividuation Effects) analyses, specifically on their premise that the higher the level of anonymity the stronger the deindividuation process. They argue that, “[w]hen people communicate with their real names as identities in an online community, there is no dissociation of real and online identities” (Buchholz and Morio 2007:4). However, they also argue that within more or less anonymous contexts a deindividuating effect, in association with compliance to group norms and pressures, may be preferred by individuals with certain cultural backgrounds. This argument is necessarily interlinked with a duality of autonomy and affiliation, which,  Anthony Giddens, and Charles Goodwin and Alessandro Duranti to illustrate the value of a different approach that considers the importance of “a constitutively oriented approach toward social life” (Bachnik 1994:5).  8  according to many, are properties informed by one’s very real sociocultural contexts, and which in turn, as the authors discuss, inform individuals’ inclinations to individualizing or deindividualizing online communication styles. Addressing a very common point brought up in analyses which contrast Japan with the ‘West,’ Buchholz and Morio argue that; Individuals in Eastern cultures are oriented toward interdependence, value the harmony of the group, and are therefore, more motivated by affiliation than by autonomy. When interacting with other group members, individuals from Eastern cultures are more likely to conform to group standards and mimic other individual’s behavior. On the other hand, individuals in Western cultures value competence and independence; thus, their behavior is governed by autonomy motivation. Their goals are to be unique, independent, and competent. (Buchholz and Morio 2007:7) Consequently, they contend, individuals in Western cultures will gravitate toward online communities that allow lower levels of anonymity (i.e. visual anonymity and dissociation between real and online identities), while individuals in Eastern cultures will be more likely to seek out communities which promote higher levels of anonymity (i.e. lack of identifiability), as they are primarily seeking affiliation rather than autonomy. More specifically, the authors conclude that ‘Western culture’ regards independence and uniqueness highly, which is why online communities with some sort of individual identity specifications are preferred, while ‘Eastern culture’ gives rise to people’s need to be part of something larger than themselves, and thus anonymous forums “enhance a sense of unity with the group” (Buchholz and Morio 2007:8). With their own words, they “argue that this is the reason why 2Channel, a totally anonymous online community, has gained so much popularity in Japan. Likewise, we suggest that this is why there is no equivalent popularity for these types of communities in Western countries” (Buchholz and Morio 2007:8). Buchholz and Morio’s argument at first sight appears commonsensical to someone exposed to more stereotypical and classic imaginations of a Japanese collectivist culture. Perhaps scholars who are aware of recent critiques of Japan’s ‘collectivism’, and more specifically of the Japanese self being seen as collectivist rather than individualist by Western scholars (cf. Takano and Osaka 1999, Hasegawa and Hirose 2005), may question how to situate the above arguments  9  in what could be a changing analytical field. Takano and Osaka’s (1999) review of 15 social studies, and lack of finding aspects of collectivism, leads them to conclude that Japanese do not necessarily display more collectivism than Americans. Consequently, they argue, the potential differences between the (commonly perceived as individualist) US and (collectivist) Japan should not be analyzed through the use of this pair of attributes (Takano and Osaka 1999). In another critique mounted specifically against the Japanese self as collectivist, Hasegawa and Hirose (2005) analyze language use, such as kinship terms and psychological predicates, in order to point out that the Japanese self is inherently highly individualistic, and that their findings differ significantly from the group model. The issue for this thesis is not whether the Japanese self is ‘collectivist’ or not, but more importantly whether anonymity can be equated to collectivism. Rather than taking a position in these discourses 3, it is more appropriate for the purposes of this paper to take note that, anthropological research has frequently acknowledged the role of identification, as well as ‘individuality’ within Japan’s brand of ‘collectivism’, or more precisely the interrelational self. Therefore, it should be noted that both critiques are mounted in relation to partial aspects of the term ‘collectivism’ or to its binary juxtaposition with individuality. I will address some problematic points in regards to 2ch’s anonymity and its context within a larger Japanese Internet as well as differing technology developments in chapter four. It is also equally important to problematize the arguments in a culture-specific context. Buchholz and Morio point out that the cultural environment and values play an important role in the kinds of interactions seen online. In other words, they identify a definite link between online and offline contexts that should not be ignored. However, the overgeneralization of Japanese culture and values are problematic: Buchholz and Morio argue, first, that Japanese, due to a ‘collectivist’ orientation, desire affiliation and group belonging. Secondly, they conclude, this tendency in 3  There are different sides to this debate, a discussion of which would take up much space. For instance, scholars do take different views on whether conceptualizations of Japanese society and self as collectivist are circulated by Japanese or Western scholars, and what implications, if any, either instance holds. Furthermore, one could argue that common use of the term ‘collectivism’ has in fact shaped its meaning precisely into a binary opposite of ‘individualism’ and should therefore be used sparingly.  10  combination with more prolific instances of anonymous posting in Japanese online fora points towards a desire for anonymity. However, the latter is certainly not a simple conclusion and consequence of the former, and necessitates further discussion. One such complication lies in the danger of equating interdependence with harmony when combinedwith an anonymous online forum. According to Nakane, “the Japanese ethics puts high value on the harmonious integration (wa) of group members” (Nakane 1970:49). However, this is linked to the idea that group members know who each other are and interact together personally, in face-to-face encounters. If we follow Buchholz’s and Morio’s arguments, it would seem easy to presume that online collectives which necessitate pseudonyms (as opposed to completely anonymous settings) inform their users’ motivations towards acquiring autonomy and individuation. Similarly, in an article discussing Usenet newsgroups, early Internet discussion systems, Judith Donath (1999) highlights participants’ motivations to acquire reputation in pseudonymous contexts. However, in Jane Singer’s (1996) discussion dealing with online message boards, we find that a larger percentage of hostile communication was found in a nonanonymous context rather than in an anonymous context (further discussion of both texts follows in chapter four of this text). It becomes important then to pay attention to the elements at stake here: While individuation and collectivism lie at opposite poles of a spectrum of variation in computer-mediated communication (or CMC), they can occur in a multitude of forms, just as in a cultural context, and the Japanese case specifically, collectivism and group models come hand-inhand with identification. Thus, a conflation of anonymity, collectivism, and group harmony should be avoided. An anonymous space such as 2ch can become important to mainstream Japanese culture precisely for its potential as a locus for free speech because offline group membership is usually not anonymous. Far from the numerous users of 2ch who thrive in an allegedly harmonious collective setting, it is those (fewer in proportion) messages which announce potential crimes and denounce high profile members of society, as well as utter racist and politically inappropriate statements, which contribute to 2ch’s infamous reputation offline.  11  Such statements are uttered under the safety of a flood of anonymous and untraceable communications on the one hand, but certainly not intended to fit with the expectations of group involvement when identities are known on the other hand. This demonstrates the problem of conflating ‘traditional’ concepts linked to each other within superficial, or perhaps more ingrained, depictions of Japan. There is an implicit assumption here that collectivity parallels anonymity, and individualism parallels identification. Even if we agreed that individuals of a certain cultural background can be more drawn to an anonymous setting (and considering the Japanese Internet at large, I am not yet prepared to agree with this thesis), we must consider that the reality of 2channel belies an anonymous, collective space where members may experience affiliation, and in fact is more complex. The Japanese interrelational self is not anonymous, and, in the Japanese context at least, ‘collective’ identities are as much people who are not anonymous, people who, precisely because they belong and are affiliated, are then identifiable – unless they seek out anonymous contexts.4 The use of a conceptually dichotomous pair like ‘collectivism’ versus ‘individualism’ impinges on the very reality of spaces that exhibit strong characteristics of both, and represents an “opposition logic” that focuses on either one or the other (Lebra 2004:2). Along with other anthropologists, Kondo writes against what she calls “binary logic” and more specifically against the binary constructed between self and society (Kondo 1990:33-42). This is an issue which is also important outside of the Japanese context, and specifically pertinent to crowd analyses as well as general studies dealing with anonymity. When masked individuals in several parts of the world started holding protests against Scientology in early 2008, the media and public had some issues dealing with that unrestrained leader-less Internet group, simply known as ‘Anonymous’. Extremely loosely organized (there is no such thing as a set membership in this specific group) on 4  There is a certain link to the Japanese proverb 旅の恥はかき捨て, Tabi no haji ha kaki sute, which may be translated to “Shame on a journey can be thrown away” or more liberally “One need feel no shame away from home”, because home, where one belongs, is also the place where one is known to others.  12  an English imageboard called 4chan (modeled after 2ch’s imageboard sibling Futaba channel, or 2chan.net), as well as promoting protests and participation with videos on Youtube (Youtube 2008), Anonymous has been alternatively saddled with labels of “cyber criminals” or “hacktivists” and their protests have been viewed both humorously or alternatively as “war” (see for example Michaels 2008; Richards 2008; Stewart 2008; Schroettnig, Herrington and Trent 2008). Clearly then, neither 2ch nor Anonymous (in its various manifestations) nor 4chan can be seen as non-individualist, collectivist endeavours, while paradoxically this is precisely how they are perceived – perhaps due to a difficulty of engaging with the faceless and nameless. How then can we engage with and characterize anonymity beyond its disembodied spectre? In his review of studies discussing anonymity within social psychology, Christopherson (2007) describes two general categories of anonymity, technical and social anonymity. Technical anonymity is the removal of all meaningful identifiers, whereas social anonymity refers to the perception of others or oneself as unidentifiable, or in other words the key aspect of social anonymity here is the perception of self and others as anonymous. The creation of two broad categories in this context is obviously overly simplistic, as the many variations of anonymity we encounter in online contexts span across a range of modes, and often span across these two categories (Buchholz and Morio for instance identify three types: visual anonymity, pseudonymity and real anonymity). However, what we may take away here is the importance of precisely that perception of anonymity, regardless of its veracity, which informs behavioural patterns, as well as notions of security and privacy. Multiple negative as well as positive consequences have been connected to anonymity, chief amongst which are privacy, security and self-expression on the one (positive) hand (e.g. Pedersen 1997), and increase of aggressive and detrimental behaviours as a result of deindividuation on the other (negative) hand (e.g. Zimbardo 1969). Zimbardo’s deindividuation theory investigates the correlation between immersion in a group, crowd, or other forms of anonymity, and the state of deindividuation, a state of reduced self-awareness, self-observation  13  and –evaluation. The deindividuated state leads, or so Zimbardo argues, to weakened control over feelings such as guilt, shame and fear, as well as to increased expression of usually suppressed behaviour and emotions. This theory has been somewhat controversial within social psychology, according to Christopherson (Christopherson 2007:3044). Some later scholars have continued to work with Zimbardo’s stress on environmental conditions that cause deindividuation and have focused on anonymous crowd conditions. Others have critiqued this emphasis on environmental conditions and turned their focus towards internal processes and kinds of self-awareness in connection to the induction of a deindividuated state (Christopherson 2007:3044-5). Deindividuation theory still holds an appeal to scholars of psychology in regards to recent theories on anonymity, especially in conjunction with a rising need for anonymity theory to understand CMC contexts (further elaborated in chapter four). Such theories have become necessary in order to account for special features of social interactions online that are not available in face-to-face (or FtF) contexts, e.g. lack of visual/auditory cues, asynchronous communication, and physical isolation from communication partners. Two models/structures have been brought forward in social psychology to address such changes of anonymity theory in conjunction with the discipline’s concerns with the human psyche and behaviour. The first, adaptive structuration theory (AST) (DeSanctis and Poole 1994), focuses on the influence of technology on social behaviour by highlighting the structures provided by the technology (or its originally intended purposes) as well as the structures that emerge as people interact with the technology (which may or may not correlate with its intended purposes). While roughly in line with current analyses of CMC and Social Network Sites, arguably AST is at this stage limited by the discipline’s preferred methodology of lab experiments and subsequent analyses. Similar to traditional anthropological ethnography, a longitudinal study of a given online community, public or website will show that its originally intended purposes as conceived by the creators as well as emerging uses will change throughout its use (Myspace and Facebook can be listed as two examples). The Social Identity Model of Deindividuation Effects, or SIDE model, is the second  14  theory that has emerged within psychology to address CMC contexts (Lea and Spears 1991; Lea, Spears and de Groot 2001), and is also the model that provides the background to Buchholz and Morio’s paper (2007). SIDE theory is a reinterpretation of classic deindividuation theory, which focuses on two components: Cognitive (focusing on group behaviour mediated by anonymity) and strategic (focusing on the strategic use of anonymity in CMC). While an extensive overview of the SIDE model lies outside the scope of this paper, Lea, Spears and de Groot (2001) have carried out substantial work in exploring more nuanced aspects of individual identity and agency in anonymous group settings, which reaches beyond classic concerns of a negative crowd mentality. In this context, social psychology sees anonymity as having a profound effect on how actors behave in group settings online as well as offline. Some theories include notions of group polarization (a tendency for like-minded individuals to express themselves differently or more extremely when exposed to group discussions), bystander apathy and social loafing (tendency to work less hard when within groups) as the less negative examples, and a loss of self-awareness as a more extreme example. Briefly then, in contrast: SIDE proposes that anonymity promotes a shift in the kind of self-awareness from the personal to the group self rather than a loss of self-awareness. Similarly, perceptions of others shift from being primarily interpersonal to being group-based perceptions (stereotyping) under anonymity, rather than there being a loss of attention to others. (Lea, Spears and de Groot 2001:527) In other words, the cognitive component of SIDE argues that social norms (or group-specific norms) are strengthened when social identity is strong, and weakened when personal identity is strong. Conversely, they argue, when all members are anonymous, group importance will increase, while when a member identifies others but remains anonymous, that member’s selfidentification is stronger than group identification. While Christopherson argues that most psychology research has supported these claims (Christopherson 2007:3048), it is important to point out that these findings stem from psychological methodology, i.e. lab-conducted experiments, and in this particular case of groups who have been set specific purposes. There are of course much more complex situations in general CMC contexts than simple purpose-led group  15  formations – and more identifiers than visual or name identifiers. Arguably even in a supposedly anonymous context there are cues that can lead to identification, as, for example demonstrated in the case of Densha Otoko, who on one occasion encountered an imposter. The latter’s writing voice differed significantly from the original Densha Otoko’s even though he attempted to mimic the original, thus causing various forum users to point to him as an imposter even prior to conclusive proof. Of course pseudonymity as well creates an environment of identification, which may differ from the offline social situations of participants, and represents a complex sociality complete with (new or old) structures that belies a straightforward (psychological) anonymity. While not working with SIDE theory explicitly in their article “Plan 9 from Cyberspace,” McKenna and Bargh (2000) similarly attempt to demystify the dark spectre of deindividuation by pointing out its negative as well as positive effects. They highlight the consequences and communications that may result from behaviour stemming from a deindividuated state. Deindividuation, they point out, because it results in a weakened ability for behaviour regulation, can incite a tendency to react to immediate cues or on the basis of an emotional state. This is a salient topic in regards to CMC contexts within social and personality psychology specifically (e.g. flame wars, or in other words highly aggressive exchanges; dissemination of racist messages etc.). Regardless, McKenna and Bargh attempt to reaffirm that deindividuation through anonymity does not in itself result in negativity, but “[r]ather, it decreases the influence of internal (i.e. self) standards of or guides to behavior, and increases the power of external, situational cues” (McKenna and Bargh 2000:61f.). Consequently, if a given external situation is quite positive, the effects may be equally beneficial to the individual. McKenna and Bargh write; The relative anonymity of Internet communication may allow individuals to take greater risks in making disclosures to their Internet friends than they would with someone they met in a more traditional, anonymous setting. … If individuals do share more intimate confidences and do so earlier in a potential Internet relationship than in a potential reallife one, Internet relationships should develop intimacy and closeness more quickly than do offline relationships. (McKenna and Bargh 2000:62)  16  The importance of such play in identity construction (see also Turkle 1995, who discusses the role of the internet in creating and facilitating plural identities) emerges readily from an anthropological perspective, as it crystallizes into topics of interest for the discipline such as new relations, affiliations, empowerment and agency. Its salience for social and identity psychology is perhaps more utilitarian, and, to the authors, is crucial, as individuals with multiple self-defining identities are better prepared to face changes and challenges (McKenna and Bargh 2000:62). Alternatively however, online identities can sometimes be difficult to incorporate into offline worlds. What for one person may be the boon of a social network in regards to their marginalized, yet not outlawed, social identity (e.g. queer activism), may for another person, especially in very negative cases, result in an overestimation of how many people share their views (e.g. ethnic/racial hatred). To Christopherson then, “it is the strategic component of SIDE theory that dictates whether or not anonymity ultimately leads to pro-social or anti-social behavior” (Christopherson 2007:3051). In other words, recently social psychology’s concern with proversus anti-social behaviour is largely dependant on how anonymity is used, thus incorporating partial aspects of agency into a state of ‘deindividuation’ that may be equally positive or negative in terms of personality/social psychology. While anonymity-induced deindividuation is currently not seen as clearly negative as it was thirty years ago, by Zimbardo for instance (1969), it is also rarely perceived as a genuinely positive phenomenon. This may be due to the fact that deindividuation is generally not perceived as a different type of identity articulation or subject formation, but rather as a precarious state wherein personal identity is absent.5 Taken from this perspective, anonymity, as a state that may induce deindividuation, still maintains more negative than positive connotations, though it stands in contrast to many social analysts who have critiqued the notion of the self as bounded essence or core (such as many anthropologists of Japan), as well  5  An exception of this is the work of Lea, Spears and de Groot (2001) who do touch on this problem.  17  as the concept of an a priori subject.6 While such approaches can be taken to certain extremes, in many instances they do not deny the existence of a ‘self’, but rather serve to highlight different aspects of it: its articulation in multiple contexts, through a variety of relations, and even across a span of identities. In this sense, deindividuation, rather than conjuring the image of unfettered behaviour, uncontrolled in absence or retreat of personal identity, can be seen as another type of identity articulation amongst many. Privacy, on the other hand, is seen within psychology as an important and largely positive aspect of anonymity. It refers not necessarily to the removal of one’s self from others, but more importantly to the ability to exert control upon the access given to one’s self. That control is seen as highly beneficial to the self. Anonymity (as a form of privacy) largely provides three functions: recovery, catharsis and autonomy. Recovery is viewed as “a sense of rejuvenation that involves active contemplation of one’s situation and results in a sense of refuge and relaxation” (Christopherson 2007:3041). Recovery then is evident in an anonymous on- or offline context, but catharsis and autonomy are equally important in CMC (computer-mediated communication) contexts. Catharsis, or an unhindered expression of thoughts or feelings to others, has usually been seen to necessitate the act of confiding in another person (thus being a non-anonymous process). However, an open expression of emotions, opinions and sentiments in an anonymous manner becomes very possible in an Internet setting, and can be seen in examples from personal sites to multiple Social Network Sites, such as Myspace or Livejournal. Here, it should be noted that such forms of emotional expression can take on positive or negative aspects, without the fear of being identified and/or socially evaluated. Finally, autonomy represents the chance to experiment with new behaviors without fear of social consequences. Anonymity can be used here for identity construction, or even for the process of becoming a different person, as there exists a freedom from being identified.  6  For instance, several pieces of Michel Foucault’s work extend themselves to the historical, political and social contextualization of the individual subject, and the emergence of this concept under modernity.  18  How then can we relate privacy to anonymity, or the control over the extent to which one discloses one’s self, to social relations? One factor to consider, specifically in CMC contexts in which one operates under visual anonymity, pseudonymity or full anonymity, is trust. Friedman, Kahn and Howe (2000) seek to explore the nature of trust online, and to address the seemingly disparate perceptions of online localities in connection to trust: the disjuncture between some saying people are too trusting and easily duped in online contexts, and others arguing that the public does not trust enough, specifically in contexts of online business ventures or projects. In order to trust, the authors argue that, perhaps counter-intuitively, one cannot be situated in a completely safe position, but rather one must essentially perceive oneself in a situation of more or less vulnerability to harm from others. They explain this when writing that, “[w]e trust when we are vulnerable to harm from others yet believe these others would not harm us even though they could” (Friedman, Kahn and Howe 2000:34). Three calculations are then involved in the process of trust-forming and the state of trust. First, there is the potential harm one may incur; second, the goodwill of those concerned with that social relation; and finally, third, whether the potential harm lies within or outside of the relationship boundaries and parameters. The concept of trust then, within social and personal psychology, is a concept more clearly delineated and defined than the various ways and contexts in which we may use the word in our everyday lives. A betrayal of such trust may and perhaps likely will end the relationship, though it becomes necessary, the authors argue, to distinguish between betrayal and breach. The latter can be repaired or occurs outside the core parameters of the relationship. The authors preempt potential critiques by arguing that while the terms ‘trust’ and ‘trustworthy’ are often used in conjunction with technology, and while the failure of a technical aspect of the Internet may result in significant loss (of privacy, information, time etc.), this cannot be seen as trust violation in the full sense, as it cannot address the moral issues that surround the betrayal of trust. As presented by Friedman, Kahn and How, trust “exists between entities able to experience good will, extend good will toward others, feel vulnerable, and experience betrayal.  19  These psychological states, in turn, depend on consciousness and agency. … People trust people, not technology” (Friedman, Kahn and Howe 2000:36). Of course, in speaking of online locales it is important to accord a degree of importance to trust in that specific environment or atmosphere prior to trust in online interactions with others. The authors address this critique by arguing that this is “not because the environment enters into the trust relationship but because people frequently draw on cues from the environment to ascertain the nature of their own vulnerabilities and the good will of others” (Friedman, Kahn and Howe 2000:37). It follows from this, and the evidence we see in various locales on- and offline, that technology and its architecture/infrastructure are variables that must be given due value, and I attempt to cover this variable for 2channel in my later chapter discussing technology by drawing on literature dealing with computer-mediated communication specifically. The fact that anonymity online, in its various manifestations from visual anonymity to pseudonymity to full anonymity can exhibit certain properties distinct from anonymity offline points to the importance of environment. It is clear that anonymity eo ipso cannot be seen as a particularly negative or positive variable in an online space. In conjunction with trust then, anonymity can in fact complicate assessments or trust calculations, and thus diminish the potential environment of trust. Yet by its very facilitation of a private and secure communication or connection, anonymity can in fact induce an environment of trust (Friedman, Kahn and Howe 2000:38). This ambiguity or dynamic value of anonymity in relation to trust is underlined by its relation to accountability, which can be described as an inverse proportional relationship to privacy and personal autonomy. Both accountability as well as personal autonomy and security can play important roles in the cultivation of trust. While one may often be diminished at the cost of the other in online spaces, the lack of one or the other cannot conclusively point towards a loss or gain of trust. Rather they are both reflections as well as components of the given environment and atmosphere.  20  As the authors express more straightforwardly; Perhaps the greatest difference between trust online and in all other contexts is that when online, we have more difficulty (sometimes to the point of futility) of reasonably assessing the potential harm and good will of others, as well as what counts as reasonable machine performance. That is why people can engage in virtually identical online interactions, yet reach widely disparate judgments about whether the interactions are trustworthy. (Friedman, Kahn and Howe 2000: 40) The analyses explored so far point us towards the very subjectivity inherent in not just offline FtF (face-to-face) interactions, but also more importantly in CMC contexts. The infrastructure and architectures of digital technology allow for a variety of more or less anonymous interactions, which are necessarily informed by subjective evaluations of variables such as trust, privacy and security. Security and privacy then are both significant components in order to evaluate anonymity at large, and 2ch as well as Densha Otoko within their cultural context. Takie Sugiyama Lebra (2004) addresses some of the issues concerning the need for privacy and anonymity. She draws heavily on the four concepts uchi, soto, omote and ura. Classically, uchi, the ‘inside group’, versus soto, the ‘outside group’, may be conceptualized as shifting circles of social affiliation and these concepts are linked closely to omote, ‘face’ or ‘front,’ and ura, ‘back’ or ‘behind,’ which similarly indicate sets of formulated behaviours or lack thereof, associated with emotional and performative dimensions. Lebra’s variation on these concepts is that she views omote (front) with uchi (inside) as aspects of behaviour in a normative zone of society, whereas, according to her, ura (back) and soto (outside) are situated in an anomalous zone, and may be associated with emotions such as hostility and apathy. Lebra also addresses cyberspace and its social practices in a manner which indicates that she sees cyberspace as removed from offline spaces and sociality.  21  Lebra asserts that; Because of its addictive attraction, cyberspace displaces social space, inhibiting people from developing and enacting interpersonal sensitivity and social skill; by inducing a breakdown of zonal [i.e. the four zones of omote/ura/uchi/soto] boundaries, it also generates a sense of ‘freedom’ to break rules, including committing atrocious crimes. Reportedly, faceless visitors to deai-kei saito (websites for ‘encountering,’ suggesting blind dating) have increased sharply, notably among high school girls, 43 percent of whom have met their ‘dates’ in person. Such virtual encounters, when turned into real encounters, have often led to child prostitution, robbery, rape, violence, and other forms of abuse. One wonders if the ultimate outcome could be a breakdown of socio-zonal boundaries, or of sociality itself. (Lebra 2004:103) If we define the formation of sociality as relying on properties of the ‘real world’ which have not so far been replicated or imitated online, a view I personally disagree with, Lebra may indeed be right. Clearly, encounters with faceless potential dates, when enacted face-to-face for the first time may prove dangerous; even more so if the site itself does not involve a central management group which pre-screens participants, such as one may find in traditional omiai (or weddingmatch) situations. However, on the potentially positive side, Dando Yasuharu discusses in his aptly named article “How the Internet is Saving Japan from Becoming a Nation of Lifetime Singles” (2001) the effect of the Internet and deai-kei saito on certain groups within the age demographic who ‘traditionally’ may have given up on marriage, as they have passed a ‘proper’ age line. Like any ‘new space’ where the limits must be charted, the Internet holds potentialities both positive and negative, but it is doubtful whether it functions in a manner completely outside of offline socialities, as Lebra indicates. In fact, when Lebra argues that “cyberspace displaces social space” (2004:103), it is the verb ‘displace’ that takes on a pivotal meaning: cyberspace, as an alternative space, can allow displacement as a temporary escape measure, or as a mechanism to break away from offline social spaces, and is thus inherently linked to offline realities. One of the key aspects of 2ch, freedom and safety to speak, is completely tied to what one may call reallife sociality, and especially its variations in what Lebra defines as the anomalous zones: social pressure, corruption and fear.  22  Lebra (2004:119-126) discusses situations of corruption and cover-ups, not merely on governmental or official levels, but more importantly as institutionalized and widespread practices. Two of her examples are police cover-ups and academic irregularities. She explains that several of her collaborators narrated incidents of academic plagiarism at professorial levels as well as episodes of sexual harassment. Although the victims did not seek to pursue the matters externally, but rather internally, all cases were immediately covered up, with the one at risk of unemployment or demotion being the victim not the perpetrator (Lebra 2004:124-126). Fear of social or professional repercussions can certainly be seen at the heart of anonymous exchanges, as the wish for opinion expression versus potential aftermath becomes an exercise of calculation. Certainly in the Japanese context, which comes laden with either self-espoused or externally imposed values of group behaviours and collectivism, this is a factor that plays out strongly between personal expression and security in offline as well as online contexts. Even accounts dealing with the political activism of marginalized groups, such as Neary’s discussion of Burakumin (1997), or Creighton’s articles on the Ainu Identity Movement (1995 and 2003), should not be seen as simply critiques of an espoused homogeneity perpetuated by ideological state apparatuses, but as addressing the very material employment and social insecurities that have necessitated identity camouflage by minorities However, in other cultural contexts, loss of employment or employment opportunities have arisen from information or material posted in non-anonymous online contexts, such as Facebook, Twitter and blogs (see for example BBC News 2009a, 2009b). It is precisely such issues of risk and fear that contribute to this analysis of 2ch’s popularity as a fairly risk-free locale to convey information that may or may not implicate the individual’s standing within society. Nonetheless, media representation of 2ch remains largely negative and even fearful. The following chapter contrasts public perceptions of 2ch and Densha Otoko, and analyzes the social impacts both have had.  23  III. 2CHANNEL, TRAINMAN AND ANONYMITY While public reception of the Train Man narrative is generally positive, 2channel itself is subject to more controversial discourse. Though frequented by innumerable visitors with a diversity of interests, spanning almost any potential topic, the online forum was made (in)famous by its impact on Japanese media and culture at large and has been deplored as a locus of racist utterances, slander, and even crime. A few years ago, I met Debito Arudou, an American-born naturalized Japanese activist and author. Arudou, who is known for his outspoken activism for foreigners’ rights in Japan, discussed with me a slander lawsuit he had won against 2channel. The civil suit, though a legal and moral victory for Arudou, was never fulfilled and 2ch’s founder, Hiroyuki Nishimura, never paid penalty fines to Arudou or any of the other 50 or so lawsuits he has lost, most of which are lawsuits brought for slander by anonymous person(s) on the online forum (Arudou 2006, Katayama 2008). Nishimura has stated in interviews that while he is prepared to erase messages, he does not accept financial responsibility for libel cases against anonymous users of his forum (Katayama 2008, Shibui 2008). The fact that lawsuits continue to be filed against him may have also contributed to his decision to sell 2ch to a Singaporean company in early 2009, though he remains publically linked to the forum (Martin 2009). Arudou has since become quite active against 2ch and Nishimura, and, drawing a parallel to Japan’s bullying problem within the educational system, has referred to 2ch as “the bullies’ forum” (Arudou 2009). His negative opinion of 2ch is shared amongst many in Japan, and while the severity of such offences as libel and slander may be debated, 7 2ch has been featured frequently as a venue for crime announcements and mass suicide pacts. One of the earliest crime announcements that garnered public attention was a bus hijacking in Fukuoka prefecture by a teenage boy who called himself Neomugicha (or Neo Barley Tea) in 2000. A passenger was 7  In a highly interesting court case, an American model won a lawsuit against Google causing the company to release the identity of one of its blog users, who had, according to the plaintiff, posted defamatory statements. In a recent turn-around, the blogger herself is preparing to file suit against Google for failing to protect her identity; her lawyer has framed the suit as a pivotal fight for the right of privacy and protection of anonymity online (Globe and Mail 2009).  24  killed before police forces captured the youth (Katayama 2007). Keeping a watch on 2ch, the police were also able to subsequently foil several copycat attempts. Nonetheless, the suicide and crime announcements of 2ch’s ‘creeps’ (unsavory characters who can incite fear and apprehension in others) and ‘bullies’ feature regularly in Japanese news reports. This reflects the fear of society that anonymity can give rise to anti-social, threatening or destructive behaviour. In contrast, Japanese media also often report activist group efforts and projects generated by 2ch users. The advantage of such a fast-paced and varied forum as 2channel is that it can engender a subculture capable of mobilizing members into an anonymous collective. In July 1999, users of 2ch forced the Toshiba Corporation to apologize formally after an individual used the forum to expose how his complaints about a malfunctioning VCR were responded to with obscenities by the service staff (Syberpunk 2004). In another instance, 2ch mobilized hundreds of people to clean up Shonan beach just hours before Fuji TV, planning to film an identical campaign, arrived on the site, in order to protest Fuji TV’s unsatisfactory coverage of the World Cup soccer games (Slashdot Japan 2002, Spitz_mp3 2002). Additionally, 2channel has helped propel songs into Japan’s Oricon charts, and has hacked servers in order to place Japanese comedian Masashi Tashiro in the number one position for Time magazine’s Person of the Year 2001 over Osama Bin Laden and George W. Bush (Katayama 2007). Though not painted as overtly negative as reports dealing with crime and slander, 2ch activism is perceived as operating beyond socially normative avenues of action, and the people behind these campaigns as powerful in their numbers and namelessness. In contrast, the Densha Otoko narrative was received favorably and subsequently transformed into multiple media. The story was compiled into a novel by an equally anonymous individual, Nakano Hitori (2004), a pseudonym which can be translated as ‘one of them’. It became a smash hit, was then utilized for four different comic versions, made into a highly successful TV drama, and was made into a movie (and even an adult video). The advent of Densha Otoko and the story’s transmission to such a variety of other media – specifically the  25  movie and TV drama incarnations – have partly contributed to the foregrounding of otaku (extreme fans) in the Japanese public eye, as well as the popularization of what might be called ‘geek culture’ in general and Tokyo’s technology centre, Akihabara, now conceptualized as an otaku or ‘geek’ centre, specifically. The public’s positive reaction to Train Main resulted from the perception of him as an individual (whether he exists or not), and his transformation into a man successful in and worthy of love. While this transformation was facilitated by 2ch as an anonymous venue and by its users, it is a process that was perceived as purely personal, and thus harmless, albeit inspirational. Despite Densha Otoko’s popularity on one hand, and 2ch’s infamity on the other, the fact that 2ch is the locus of origin for that particular story is not often debated nor taken into account. It is not the story of Densha Otoko and its aspects of community and love arising from 2ch that has drawn government attention to 2ch, but rather that 2ch’s threads sometimes openly express racism, most prominently against Koreans, and controversial statements. Racist and libelous statements, posted under the security and anarchy of an anonymous space, have contributed to the current consideration of a potential government bill for 2010, which would endow the Japanese government with more powers to restrict and regulate the Internet (Fitzpatrick 2008a, 2008b, Norrie 2008). The lack of Japanese internal reporting on this potential government bill has caused external media, such as the British newspaper The Guardian, to portray Japanese people as “an apathetic and apolitical population” (Fitzpatrick 2008a). The disjuncture between the positive public perception of Train Man and the overall negative perception of 2ch is profound. This is remarkably so when one considers that the anonymous crowds on 2ch which jeer at public personalities, Koreans and suicide messages, also cheer on a young man in his quest to become ‘fit for love’. These crowds are perhaps not at all dissimilar, and may even consist of the same individuals. All these instances – negative or positive – operate by using anonymity as a social vehicle, yet nonetheless differ in being judged as pro-social or anti-social behavioural patterns. The Train Man narrative highlights the main  26  male character’s transformation from otaku to ‘a man who can love’ as beneficial, and it has incited multiple trends (many of which can be viewed as positive). Densha Otoko’s story was created between March and May 2004, with a total of some 29,000 posts (c.f. Freedman 2009: section 8 drawing on a Japanese discussion of the text). However, if we examine a Japanese log collection of the relevant threads, including those which discuss the Train Man but in which he does not appear, there are over 35 threads which hold 1001 posts each (Naka no Hito 2005-2009) – and no indication of the number of participants. Nakano Hitori (2004) edited these posts to 1900 posts based in six chapters or ‘missions’ which Densha Otoko completes in order to succeed in his romance, such as asking Hermes out for dinner, holding hands or having tea in the cups she gave him. There has been much debate over whether or not Densha Otoko is in fact a real person. While his editor, Gunji Hiroko, claims she has met him (Lewis 2005) and the novel, movie and TV versions have been heavily marketed as a ‘true’ love story, others argue that there are too many discrepancies and ambivalent points in the story itself (see for example Hako Otoko 2004; Marx 2005; Naka no Hito 2005 – 2009, especially 2005a; and “!” 2004 – 2007). Two examples are the fact that a 22 year-old has been working for three years in a position that requires a university degree, and that the compilation website was up rather quickly after the discussions ended (Freedman 2009: section 31). Discussions and critiques have in a few instances even gone as far as suspecting that Densha Otoko is the product of a ‘conspiracy’ between Fuji TV, Dentsu advertising company and Hiroyuki Nishimura (Marx 2005, Freedman 2009: sections 31f). The main concerns in these blog posts and online critiques revolve around questions of ethics, consumption and the influence of mass media. The principal thrust of these critiques is targeted at, as the authors argue, the fictive construction of the Train Man narrative under the guise of a real-time observable life experience, which represents a stroke of commercial genius. Its subsequent high sales and social impacts are viewed in these commentaries as unethical due to what is considered the deceptiveness of the  27  narrative. On the other hand, Alisa Freedman (2009), in her recent article discussing the social influence of Densha Otoko and its multi-media properties specifically in regards to gender, highlights the very real and tangible impacts the story has had on media debates of Japanese national issues, on Japanese trends, as well as on developments within the publishing industry and mass media generally. One of the most interesting aspects of a discussion that concerns media, beyond the ways in which a narrative plays out in different media, is in fact the intertextuality of that narrative itself. The website on which the novel is based is still freely available, and in fact the novel includes its web address.8 The layout of the novel follows the compilation website and loosely gathers specific relevant posts and replies untouched into six chapters. The Densha Otoko novel has set a precedent for unconventional publications, such as blog-novels and keitai (cell phone) novels, often based on free blogs and cell phone internet subscriptions. Keitai novels specifically link to Japan’s Internet usage tendencies, which are focused heavily on cell phones as Internet access points (Coates and Holroyd 2003, Goodyear 2008). These publications are subsequently often made into movies, dramas or manga (for example the narrative Koizora or, literally, ‘sky of love’). Such keitai novels have a more conservative layout and editing than that of Densha Otoko, and Freedman asserts that the genre was especially popular in 2005 and 2006 after the publication of the novel Densha Otoko (Freedman 2009: section 19). After the publication of the novel in October 2004, and with multiple promotional campaigns at the end of 2004 and beginning of 2005, the Densha Otoko movie aired in June 2005, and the highly successful TV drama ran from July to September of that year, with special long episodes aired in October 2005 as well as a year later in September 2006. Freedman points out that the height of the Densha Otoko hype coincided with former Prime Minister Koizumi’s  8  The compilation website on which the novel is based is hosted by a free website service called Yahoo! geocities (Nakano Hitori 2004). Yahoo has recently announced that geocities will be closed sometime during 2009 (Yahoo! Help 2009), however there have been no announcements of that form on the Japanese Yahoo portal site yet; there are some speculations whether the Japanese version of geocities will remain open due to the fact that telecommunications and media corporation Softpedia holds much of its stock (Summary 2009).  28  declaration that Japan’s low fertility rate posed multiple problems to the nation (Freedman 2009: section 32). Densha Otoko’s narrative enthusiastically endorses the search for a partner not only as something worthwhile, but also as a transformative endeavour. Freedman argues that the narrative demonstrates that even marginalized individuals such as an otaku can be a potential partner, “ so long as he could acquire the looks and communication skills that would make him desirable to women and help him conform to mainstream society” (Freedman 2009: section 34). Not only does the success of the narrative underline the tropes of love and marriage, but it also fuels two pop culture booms: the ‘pure love’ stories, which depict a first and true love and often end before the mundanity of everyday life encroaches on the purity of the emotion (Freedman 2009: section 21); and the otaku boom, which highlights a segment of the Japanese population previously completely marginalized (Freedman 2008: sections 28f). Freedman points out astutely the ways in which the character of Densha Otoko, an otaku himself, is no longer seen as apart from Japanese society and the desired Japanese life, but rather becomes a part of it – a pars pro toto for the ways in which otaku subculture at large, while being accepted as enriching part of Japanese mainstream society, nevertheless must conform to it. Freedman writes; While encouraging greater acceptance of communities that exist apart from larger public society, this tale of love, in the end, advocated conformity instead of alternative forms of marriage and family. While Train Man is an entertaining role model and exemplar of the power self-achievement, he has helped champion the social status quo. (Freedman 2009: section 43) Much can be gleaned by critically interrogating the impact of this narrative, especially in regards to its veracity or deception, and such endeavours have been undertaken by a variety of individuals both Japanese- and English-speaking, though not within the English-based academic world. For the purposes of this paper, the veracity of Densha Otoko is secondary to its social influence, as well as to its intertextuality and the quite permeable boundaries between the realities (illusions included) at large. Baudrillard (1988) establishes four potentialities of the image, which can be drawn on here. First, the image may reflect a basic reality. Second, it may mask or skew a  29  basic reality. Third, it may mask the absence of a reality. Fourth, it may not be connected at all to any kind of reality, and instead exists in its own right. He goes on to argue; When the real is no longer what it used to be, nostalgia assumes its full meaning. There is a proliferation of myths of origin and signs of reality; of second-hand truth, objectivity and authenticity. There is an escalation of the true, of the lived experience; a resurrection of the figurative where the object and substance have disappeared. And there is a panicstricken production of the real and the referential, above and parallel to the panic of material production. (Baudrillard 1988) The online reactions, deconstructions and critiques of the narrative must be seen in the light of this passage, as they are inherently founded in the quest of disproving in detail the reality of the narrative, by placing it in juxtaposition to what is real. However, though there have been critical approaches in that vein, the existence of the Train Man has never been conclusively disproven, partly due to the nature of the text. The publisher also asserts that he does exist. However, when transported to primarily non-textual media, the narrative must be constructed into a real image, even in the absence of substance. In other words, the TV and movie adaptations of Densha Otoko endeavour to place faces and character attributes on those 2ch users who, in the original threads and novel version, remain anonymous. Thus, the visualization of anonymity masks its uncertainties, for instance the existence or absence of a ‘true’ reality, and in the same vein by visualizing the invisible, creates a Densha Otoko adaptation that exists in its own right. This relates back to Baudrillard’s theory of reality and simulation. Baudrillard argues that; By an unforeseen twist of events and an irony which no longer belongs to history, it is through the death of the social that socialism will emerge — as it is through the death of God that religions emerge. … A simulation which can go on indefinitely, since – unlike “true” power which is, or was, a structure, a strategy, a relation of force, a stake — this is nothing but the object of a social demand, and hence subject to the law of supply and demand, rather than to violence and death. Completely expunged from the political dimension, it is dependent, like any other commodity, on production and mass consumption. (Baudrillard 1988) What saves the narrative from its death – a descent into oblivion – is precisely its nature. First, whether it is ‘real’ or not, what is undoubtedly true is that not all of the 29,000 posts could have been coordinated or faked, so that it is necessary to acknowledge that Densha Otoko’s story is, in a very real sense, a collaborative one, in which all replies, support- as well as mocking messages  30  are as much part of the story as the (real or not) narrative itself. Second, in considering Baudrillard’s invocation of economic structures and social demand, as well as Freedman’s discussion of the narrative’s social, economic and sociopolitical impacts, it becomes clear that Densha Otoko serves multiple functions in Japan’s sociocultural topography. Finally, the intertextuality of the multimedia enterprise itself is overtly exhibited by its producers and firmly understood by its consumers. For instance, in the 2006 TV special “Densha Otoko Deluxe” (Fuji TV), Densha Otoko is portrayed by an actor as someone whose story has become famous in the public eye, while the person remains anonymous. In one scene, he looks up and sees a poster for the Densha Otoko movie, which is in fact the same promotional poster as the one used for the actual 2005 Densha Otoko movie. Such play on the very nature of anonymity, reality, and fiction not only functions to ‘advertise’ other products within the franchise, but also opens a dialogue with the audience that simultaneously erodes the boundaries between what is real and what is fictive. While anonymity in the case of Densha Otoko obstructs consumers from verifying his identity, at the same time it also safeguards the reality (or lack thereof) of his existence from public exposure. Thus, the transformation he undergoes to become capable of dating is a process of empowerment, and seems to stand in polar opposition to the destructive and negative view of 2channel at large. Yet, on a very basic level, the Train Man’s and 2ch’s respective influences on Japanese mainstream culture remain connected by the underlying question and fear that new technologies engender radical cultural change. Recently inspired by the international media’s portrayal of a chaotic and racist Japanese Internet that may require government regulation, and an apathetic public that would not resist such a law, DJ Jessie Brown discussed in an episode of Searchengine, a radio-show broadcast by CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation), 2ch and Densha Otoko with his guests (CBC 2008). Over the course of the discussion, Katayama, a free-lance writer for Wired magazine, expresses her view that 2ch would not work without anonymity, and two differing opinions are outlined  31  involving whether this situation, venue and event represent a new culture and new people or represent a new venue for the same people. The question of whether the generation gap between an Internet- and Globalizationraised Japanese youth and their parents and grandparents is unbridgeable, and what that may imply for the safety and stability of the structures of Japanese culture, is often raised and discussed within Japan’s mass media and has also recently surfaced in the ethnography of Japan. It is also implicit within scholarly works such as Ann Allison’s (2006) discussion of computergames and anime shows, wherein she discusses how the creator of the internationally successful Pokemon game based it on a replication of his youth in the country-side collecting butterflies and beetles, and how he wanted to bring a simulation of such experiences to the youth growing up in metropoles, deprived of such natural and ‘traditional’ experiences. My position is that we are dealing with a new venue with new properties, which may contribute to cultural change. Though 2ch as a space may be equally popular due to its anonymity, it has also reached its current status as a large and heavily populated online forum through a combination of several factors, including timing and technology development as well as media coverage (both negative and positive). Furthermore, due to the nature of its online architecture, ‘freedom of speech’ in the context of voicing individual opinions and sentiments, also diminishes the ‘individual’ by highlighting and emphasizing the flow of information, data and opinions. While such properties and exchanges may contribute to forms of cultural fluctuation, and even cultural change, arguably 2ch’s constant communion with Japan offline necessitates that it be seen as another element, another new venue, in which culture is played out, transformed and transmitted. In the following chapter, I explore some aspects of computermediated communication in order to highlight the ways in which 2channel’s architecture links to anonymity as well as the creation of the Densha Otoko narrative.  32  IV. TECHNOLOGY AND ANONYMITY Computer-mediated communication, or CMC, can take multiple forms. It involves interactive and interpersonal communication through email, online forums, and social network sites on the one hand, and the penning of public product reviews on commercial sites such as Amazon on the other hand. Many forms of CMC consist of almost pure text, and are thus limited in terms of nonverbal information (such as body language and facial expression), for which emoticons (i.e. typographical representations of facial expressions and human emotions), avatars (or small images tied to one’s user name and identity) and other visual props are created and employed.9 We often speak of such sites and spaces as ‘virtual communities,’ perhaps because it is an analytical categorization we are used to from our experiences with offline spaces, venues and subcultures. However, the term ‘community,’ as Jones and Rafaeli (2000) argue, is problematic. It puts too much emphasis on networks of weak or strong social ties, which can become a fallacious point of analysis in some CMC contexts (such as Amazon reviews). I prefer Jones and Rafaeli’s use of “virtual publics,” a concept that is clearly linked to Habermas’ (1988) definition of the public sphere, which can be outlined as a mediated space or locality in which private individuals gather and communicate or express public opinion. Building on this, the phrase “virtual publics” as discussed by Jones and Rafaeli refers to; symbolically delineated computer mediated spaces, whose existence is relatively transparent and open, that allow groups of individuals to attend and contribute to a similar set of computer-mediated interpersonal interactions. They are spaces, which may or may not have associated computer supported social networks with weak or strong ties (i.e. virtual communities). (Jones and Rafaeli 2000:216) Perhaps the key characteristic the authors ascribe to “virtual publics” is that they provide a different mode of categorization, as they “can be owned, because they are not an emergent, or ephemeral social property, but rather interactive discourse spaces” (Jones and Rafaeli 2000:217). Similarly, Warner (2002) describes the public as caught in a cycle of recursive discourse; in other 9  In accordance with increasingly accessible and user-friendly technology and website systems, this is notably changing, and sites such as YouTube have helped advance CMC via videos created at home. However, such sites often equally lack structural support for detailed textual exchange.  33  words, the public is a discourse, which in turn is created as a result of a discourse. Thus, a public, in his analysis, is always already text-based, a notion which includes visual and aural texts, because “without the idea of texts that can be picked up at different times in different places by otherwise unrelated people, we could not imagine a public as an entity that embraces all the users of that text” (Warner 2002:51). Precisely because circulation revolves around a discourse of reference, it becomes possible to imagine the public as an entity consisting of potentially identifiable humans. Yet, this entity is inherently fictional, as all publics and counterpublics “come into being through an address to indefinite strangers” (Warner 2002:86). Since the public consists of an indefinite number of publics and counterpublics, and each of these revolve around certain discourses, 2ch serves as perhaps one of the most obvious examples. The forum itself represents a public which is part of a larger Japanese media conglomerate, and in turn contains hundreds of subforums with general categorical topics. These already serve as a way to filter multitudinous 2ch users into smaller publics: they attract some, and are uninteresting to others. Within these subforums, varieties of discussion threads constitute even narrower publics, and, as they are archived, these discussions are temporally open ended. While these threads are closed after 1001 posts, continuations can be easily opened. Thus, the Densha Otoko discussions span across 35 threads, including discussions about the protagonist in which he is not present. In addition, Warner speaks to the unique agency of publics which “are said to rise up, to speak, to reject false promises, to demand answers, to change sovereigns, … to scrutinize public conduct …” (Warner 2002:88). It is in light of this unique property that instances such as 2ch manipulating music charts or demanding public apologies from figureheads of large corporations must be taken. Yet, Warner argues that to ascribe agency to publics, while inevitably part of how modernity views the public, is also “… an extraordinary fiction. It requires us, for example, to understand the ongoing circulatory time of public discourse as though it were a process of discussion leading up to a decision” (Warner 2002:88-9).  34  In other words, to ascribe agency to publics often also attributes to the public entity – formed of strangers – a sentience, boundedness and organization which do not necessarily exist. While a campaign to clean up a beach as a protest against a TV station may certainly be understood as an activist endeavour, the campaign itself as well as its participants are fragments and products of an ongoing discursive text and a larger public which was party to it. As individuals who participate in these publics, the social mechanics between users in Shonan beach or in Densha Otoko discussions are not dissimilar, and agency in either instance appears as a side product rather than a planned endeavour. Finally, the phrase ‘virtual public’ also allows us to highlight the delivery technology and architecture of the specific space discussed, which enhances an analysis of what social ties may or may not exist within that space. The 2ch forum has played a large role in Japanese mainstream media and popular culture in the short time since its inception, especially since the publicization of Densha Otoko’s story. I have mentioned the fact that it is an immensely varied and large space that allows for information as well as exchanges of opinions on innumerable topics. This means that 2ch’s architecture, involving its structural, technical and functional criteria, is not primarily intended to provide infrastructure or support for the formation of social ties, though this does not negate the possibility of such ties being formed, as evidenced, for example, in the case of Densha Otoko, who formed social ties with other thread participants despite their (and his) anonymity. Buchholz and Morio (2007) distinguish between three aspects of anonymity: visual anonymity, pseudonymity (or the use of online pseudonyms and aliases), and lack of identifiability. Depending on the CMC venues, utilizing one or several of these types of anonymity may be deemed appropriate or inappropriate based both on the cultural milieu enacted in each venue as well as the architectural properties that facilitate such a milieu. Discussing Usenet newsgroups, one of the earliest Internet discussion systems, Judith Donath underlines the role of reputation.  35  She writes; In most newsgroups, reputation is enhanced by posting intelligent and interesting comments, while in some others it is enhanced by posting rude flames or snide and cutting observations. Though the rules of conduct are different, the ultimate effect is the same: reputation is enhanced by contributing remarks of the type admired by the group. (Donath 1999:31) Donath’s discussion of identity cues in CMC is valuable for the analysis of any CMC venue that incorporates relations and interactions, but her analysis faces several limitations in the context of 2ch’s anonymous architecture which discourages reputation building. Jane Singer (1996) concerns herself with the effect of online ‘anonymous’ communication, which is neither face-to-face nor part of mass communication, on the nation by analyzing communication on message boards offered by online service providers AOL (formerly America Online, now AOL LLC) and Prodigy. While Singer examines specifically political discussions online, her article points to the potentiality of political dimensions inherent in online realms, such as increased access to a variety of information, as well as the power to produce, alter, and reproduce information. It is often the case that 2ch is utilized as a source for answers to questions on any given topic. Singer observes that, although pseudonyms and aliases were more widely used on AOL message boards than those provided by Prodigy, a significantly larger percentage of messages on Prodigy were hostile in tone, regardless of the identifiability of their authors. Singer suggests that Prodigy’s architecture allowed its users to communicate with each other directly regarding specific subjects, while AOL’s architecture would list all messages chronologically rather than thematically. One important point of analysis we can infer from Singer and Donath’s work is that not only is it important to consider an online venue’s architectural properties, but also the ways in which these properties inform the types of communication and socialities that take place there. When we turn to 2ch, its central feature of anonymity, unfamiliar to Westerners familiar with online pseudonyms and identity verification processes, may lead the viewer to assume that it is an anarchic space, open to racist and hateful opinions precisely because it seems to lack strong control mechanisms. As briefly noted before,  36  even visually there is a great contrast between 2ch and pseudonymical online fora: In Englishlanguage online fora typically each message and comment is linked to the user who posted it, as well as their username, avatar, and the number of comments they have posted. The focus of the communication lies then not merely in the content of exchanges, but is moreover linked to persons posting. In contrast, as an online space, 2ch was developed with the intent of creating a space that allows freedom of speech as well as nullifies individual identification, viewed as potentially hampering open expression and information flow. According to founder Nishimura, its anonymity allows for freedom and security of discussion without restraints and with fewer risks. In an interview with Japan Media Review (Furukawa 2003), Nishimura highlights the safety that total anonymity on 2ch offers those who post information. He argues that; If there is a user ID attached to a user, a discussion tends to become a criticizing game. On the other hand, under the anonymous system, even though your opinion/information is criticized, you don't know with whom to be upset. Also with a user ID, those who participate in the site for a long time tend to have authority, and it becomes difficult for a user to disagree with them. Under a perfectly anonymous system, you can say, ‘it's boring,’ if it is actually boring. All information is treated equally; only an accurate argument will work. (Furukawa 2003) Although Nishimura paints an idealized image, his point is that 2ch’s anonymous structures place more emphasis on the content of communication rather than on its bearers. Thus, anonymity allows for freedom of speech, personal expression and information exchange precisely by nullifying individual identity and social prestige. Visually, posts on 2ch are mostly textual – a long page of numbered messages by “Mr. No Name”. Reputation is severely diminished as a motivational factor in venues that emphasize anonymity rather than pseudonymity (as pseudonymity is tied more closely to the possibility of identifiability). Though the social pressure of building a reputation is diminished by 2ch’s anonymous culture, group pressure may still remain an important factor. While there are people who post on 2ch under a pseudonym, the consensus is that they are either breaking with a philosophy that long-term residents of the forum associate with 2ch, or that they are new users who are not used to 2ch’s sub-cultural traits. The  37  occasional use of pseudonyms can be contextually justified in cases in which identification is necessary, either because a more personal and direct communication exchange is taking place, or to avoid and counteract imposters. In the case of Densha Otoko (Train Man), he was given this appellation by others on the thread, and began to utilize it in order to identify himself to other board members. However, since anyone could sign themselves as Densha Otoko, he also used a service available to users, the creation of unique and random password-generated “tripcodes,” a chain of alpha-numerical keys which can distinguish the individual who uses them in absence of a pseudonym, after someone asked him to do so. Not everyone approved, which is shown in the following exchange. 557 :Mr.名無しさん :04/03/21 00:59 ※ トリップきぼんぬ 604 :電車男 ◆nm4g8qV1Cg :04/03/21 22:01 鳥付けました。 これから電話しますー 613 :Mr.名無しさん :04/03/21 22:06 自信付いたんだろうな 614 :Mr.名無しさん :04/03/21 22:10だな。 トリップもついた品  557: Mr. No Name : 04/03/21 00:59 I want you to use a trip(code) 604: Densha Otoko nm4g8gV1Cg : 04/03/21 22:01 I made one. I’m going to call her now. 613 : Mr. No Name : 04/03/21 22:06 It looks like you’ve gained self confidence. 614 : Mr. No Name : 04/03/21 22:10 Doesn’t it? He’s even in the category of a registered trip(code). [This last comment critiques Densha Otoko’s use of a tripcode, and places tripcode in a separate, different category than ordinary users.] (Naka no Hito 2005b)  In Densha Otoko’s case, identifying himself facilitated the personal rapport and connections he had built with the thread residents, though it was also viewed in a slightly presumptuous or at least marginally immodest light by some. Still, establishing a means of identification not only facilitated a smoother communication process, but also assisted the continuity of this collaborative narrative, and later aided the author of the Densha Otoko novel in compiling the discussion threads into a website and book.  38  Six days after he had established it, Densha Otoko’s tripcode was hacked, and an imposter posted under his name and code. Other posters expressed suspicion of the fake Densha Otoko because he seemed to write differently and to have a different, and perhaps more brazen attitude. Then the original Densha Otoko, re-appeared and reported that his tripcode had been hacked. Although he created a new tripcode and posted again, the other individual claiming to be Densha Otoko did so as well. The forum residents asked both individuals to upload a particular image as proof of identity, and only one Densha Otoko did so. Even before he succeeded in uploading the file, several individuals asserted after reading his messages that he was, in fact, the ‘original’ Densha Otoko (Naka no Hito 2005c). The thread in which this occured is neither included in the compilation website, nor in the novel version, and also houses a communication between Densha Otoko and the author of the compilaton site and novel.10 Though excised from the novel version, the plot of the ‘fake’ Densha Otoko imposter has been used in the TV drama version. This divergence may be due to the fact that in a strictly text-based novel format the way in which Densha Otoko’s identity is easily mimicked may undermine his reality and existence. In comparison, within a visual format that has already given faces to each of the characters, the appearance of a fake Train Man adds drama without challenging the reality of the narrative. Such editing decisions notwithstanding, the issue at stake here is not whether this incident links to the reality or fiction of the Train Man, but rather whether it links identification to reputation. While using identification in 2ch is somewhat frowned upon, and reputation may be involved in the case of securing his identity from potential imposters, the primary motivation, for the Train Man as well as for his forum friends, was to secure and facilitate communication.  10  The compilation website and novel author is known on his website as Naka no Hito, but in the book version as Nakano Hitori. I refer to and cite him as Nakano Hitori, to distinguish him from another source, who has compiled and updated a website with all logs of the Densha Otoko narrative, multiple forum discussions about the narrative, and a page that discusses the ways in which the narrative and man are fictive (Naka no Hito 2005 – 2009).  39  By contrast, usernames in English-based online fora are tied to user profiles which often list how long a user has been frequenting a particular forum, or how many posts they have contributed. Some users in English-based internet areas have in fact adopted 2ch’s base code and created English versions of 2ch (e.g. 4-ch.net) as well as posted various online pages to explicate and propagate the use and history of 2ch. These sites, modeled after 2ch, are not as popular as ordinary online fora utilizing pseudonyms. Yet, while it is clear that cultural realities as well as communication patterns and social practices found within 2ch are transmitted ‘outside’ it is also important to remember that technological development, and in conjunction Internet development, may vary greatly in different areas of the world, and can take different trajectories. Buchholz and Morio’s article, mentioned in chapter two, undertakes its cross-cultural comparison by examining the frequency of anonymous users in Japanese and English versions of a technology news and discussion board called Slashdot (Buchholz and Morio 2007). I have dealt with some problems in the article regarding culture and the presented understanding of self. It is equally important to address some issues raised by the article in relation to technological trends and functions. In the first instance, divorcing a medium from its inherent properties will necessarily result in an incomplete analysis. While 2ch exhibits strong properties of anonymity, it also coexists with other large sites that do not allow anonymity, for example Mixi. Started in 2004, Mixi currently has over ten million members, making it the predominant social networking site (or SNS) in Japan (Mixi 2008). According to Nielsen NetRatings, Mixi has grown to take third place in total usage time and pageview (Nielsen//Netratings 2006), which means that Mixi is more popular than 2ch (and more popular than Google). Mixi is accessible to mobile phone users, and ties into Japan’s version of mobile Internet use (discussed by many scholars, for example Coates and Holroyd 2003; Ito, Okabe and Matsuda 2005), and thus reflects the strength of an alternative that taps succinctly into the everyday lifestyle of Japanese users. As a social networking site, Mixi operates on the basis of pseudonyms and social connections. Its primary purpose is in fact to  40  form social connections and to maintain these via a series of methods provided on an infrastructural basis. An SNS is a virtual social space designed for personal connections and communications; it facilitates the formation of social ties and personal online communications. In contrast to Mixi, 2ch, like most online fora, is intended as a large-scale space for information and opinion exchange, neither of which necessitate the use of pseudonyms or registration processes. Internet users may very likely inhabit and use both spaces in order to cater to different needs. Either site may acquire properties from the other, as users will not use completely separate and independent communication styles for either space. Though some connections between anonymity and collectivity may exist, as I have highlighted previously, they may perhaps lie more strongly in a sense of security anonymity grants, rather than an ‘inherent’ proclivity of Japanese people towards collectivity and thus anonymity. The co-existence and continuing popularity of such diverse spaces as 2ch and Mixi point us towards different needs that both sites address. Secondly, and equally important, we should also consider the possibility of different developments in technology. While Usenet groups have been quite successful in English language areas online, it seems they have not succeeded as well in the Japanese context. Usenet groups operate via news servers, communications are transmitted and formatted similarly to email messages, and there are innumerable, widely varied groups that provide news, professional and recreational exchanges, quite similar to 2ch. The Bulletin Board System, or BBS, incorporated as a type of guestbook or mini forum for online sites has, by contrast, fared much better in Japan than it has in the Western context. 2ch may have taken some inspiration from Slashdot11or other online spaces meant for information and opinion exchange when it was established in 1999. It has served as an umbrella site for an abundance of categories and smaller topics, as well as the individual threads created within these. As Buchholz and Morio have pointed out, in order to understand a phenomenon such as Densha Otoko, and the space from which it sprang, we must contextualize the cultural and technological ground upon which both 11  The English version of Slashdot was created in 1997, while the Japanese version unveiled in 2001.  41  were incepted. However, while 2ch as an anonymous space necessarily informs the types of sociality housed within it, its popularity cannot be simply reduced to the fact that it offers anonymity to a culture that has a propensity towards it. Rather, 2ch as an online space must be understood in conjunction with other equally popular spaces (such as Mixi) as well as in the context of its development. Furthermore, much of Buchholz and Morio’s argument derives from a comparison of anonymous postings on the English version of Slashdot versus Slashdot Japan; their conclusions in regards to cultural leanings towards anonymity are based on high numbers of anonymous postings on Slashdot Japan as well as the existence of large anonymous fora such as 2channel. Yet, the ways in which anonymity is treated in such spaces differ to some degree. The fact that Slashdot uses the term “Anonymous Coward” (perhaps even in a tongue-in-cheek manner) for its anonymous posters, is equally important to consider as the fact that Slashdot Japan has appropriated this term unchanged in its English form. By contrast, 2channel uses the more respectful “名無しさん” or “person without name,” wherein the honourific さん (or san) does attribute a level of respect, and is often commonly translated as “Mr./Ms.” in English. Slashdot Japan addresses the question of anonymity in its FAQ section in a verbatim translation from that section in the English Slashdot site: やはり匿名で投稿できる機能は必要だと考えました。 中には、重要な情報を投稿したいけれど、リンクされるのは嫌だという人も います。当分の間は、Anonymous Coward (匿名の臆病者) は廃止しません。 (Slashdot Japan 2000 [2001]) We think the ability to post anonymously is important. Sometimes people have important information they want to post, but are afraid to do it if they can be linked to it. Anonymous Coward posting will continue to exist for the foreseeable future. (Slashdot 2000) Slashdot and 2ch equally concede the importance of an anonymous feature for flow of information, and Slashdot acknowledges the crucial link between anonymity and privacy. Yet Slashdot, as a newsforum for technology related pieces with a self-acclaimed “nerdy slant” is also highly moderated: news pieces are ranked on a percentage scale, as well as labeled “troll” and/or  42  deleted, if they are found to be uninformative, offensive or unfitting. In comparison, the much broader 2ch, though it does have a nominal team of moderators, is much less policed. This is partially due to the high volume of messages, and partially due to its philosophy which prioritizes information flow and freedom of expression. The latter is inextricably linked to and facilitated by anonymity as a mask that prevents identification and can therefore act as a vehicle for personal expression, connected to notions of security, privacy and trust. V. CONCLUSION In this thesis, I have argued that the collaborative value of the Densha Otoko narrative is necessarily linked to the technological architecture of its host forum. This infrastructure not only arises from specific sociocultural contexts and technological developments but moreover emphasizes specific modes of sociality. Here, 2ch is linked to an emphasis of freedom of expression over identification. I have argued that while anonymity has been most frequently perceived as instigator of potential social harm, it must instead be viewed as a means of facilitating interaction. This is underscored by the fact that anonymity is viewed as also having positive results for individuals. Secondly, I have argued that anonymity in this case study is cohesively linked to its technological features, as well as its sociocultural background, and that anonymity on 2channel facilitates ‘individual’ expression by eliminating personal identification. Finally, anonymity, in the case of Densha Otoko, engenders sociality further by drawing on notions of security and privacy. More specifically, I have discussed the following points in the last chapter. First, 2ch exists as a space of information and opinion exchange. Second, it figures as a locus for freedom of speech, precisely by its use of an anonymous infrastructure as well as the forum practice of making use of that anonymity (and its co-existence with other popular sites). Third, 2ch lacks a forum-wide trend to build reputation as well as a forum structure that rewards multiple posting  43  with prestige or privileges. Fourth, the use of identification in the case of Densha Otoko was mainly to secure and facilitate communication. If the establishment of trust in a secure and private locus leads to a more open, or perhaps more unfettered, communication, the emergence of the same negative aspects with which 2ch is so strongly associated becomes comprehensible. Peter Kollock (1999) discusses the emergence of cooperation in this context extensively, when he writes; [T]he wonder of the Internet is not that there is so much noise, but that there is any significant cooperation at all. Given that online interaction is relatively anonymous, that there is no central authority, and that it is difficult or impossible to impose monetary or physical sanctions on someone, it is striking that the Internet is not literally a war of all against all. For a student of social order, what needs to be explained is not the amount of conflict but the great amount of sharing and cooperation that does occur in online communities. (Kollock 1999:220) Though Kollock does not necessarily discuss the reasons behind online social cooperation, many of the psychological motivators can be gleaned from Friedman, Kahn and Howe’s (2000) analysis of trust discussed previously. However, Kollock does outline the ways in which cooperation in terms of the classic concepts of ‘gift exchange’ and ‘reciprocity’ functions online, and how these differ from ‘reciprocity’ in offline cases. One primary distinction is that the recipient of a gesture, favor, or piece of information online is frequently unknown, and there is no guarantee that giver or recipient are obligated to interact or encounter each other again. Consequently, “gifts of information and advice are often offered not to particular individuals, but to a group as a whole” (Kollock 1999: 222). Very relevant to the context of 2ch and Densha Otoko, Kollock subsequently remarks that the recipient group can be well known to the giver, but can also be a completely unknown entity, which also makes a difference in whether a giver or a recipient feel they are part of a ‘community’ or not. Jones and Rafaeli highlight the differences between ‘community’ and ‘virtual public’ as concepts in CMC contexts, and the various connotations which the term ‘community’ carries (2000). On the one hand, it seems quite clear that community feeling and affiliation are not necessary components for online cooperation, specifically in the context of strongly anonymous  44  loci. On the other hand, it has also become quite apparent in various degrees that anonymous contexts are not instant hotbeds of negative developments and irrational social interactions; nor do they preclude trust formation. In such Internet contexts, there is no reliance on future reciprocity of the recipients, and no guarantee that individuals will volunteer or cooperate. Indeed, as Kollock points out, precisely because there is no reliance on a future reciprocity of the recipient, and precisely because despite such a lack of reliance individuals still volunteer and cooperate, an act of online cooperation and sharing within such a context is simultaneously both: more generous and riskier at the same time (Kollock 1999: 222). While a balanced reciprocity with a particular individual may not be possible, there is a possibility that balance might occur within a (more or less cohesive) collective as a whole. The belief in this possibility, however, can only be seen as opened up by trust. This thesis has also addressed one of the goals stated in its introduction related to addressing the current literature on internet studies and anonymity. It underlines the importance of extending a cultural understanding to technological developments, including the internet. Through discussions of ethnographic works dealing with Japan, it provides an anthropological perspective to help inform the literature in other fields dealing with issues related to anonymity online. It also brings to anthropological discussions an awareness of how these issues are being dealt with in the literature of other disciplines.  45  BIBLIOGRAPHY “!” 2004 – 2007 電車男関連, In 見たこと聞いたこと. Electronic document, http://sunrise-sunset.seesaa.net/category/75887-1.html, accessed 04/15/2009. 2channel 2009  すずめーsuzume. Electronic document, http://stats.2ch.net/suzume.cgi?yes and http://pv.40.kg/suzume/, accessed: 05/18/2009.  2009  2ch.net – Traffic Details from Alexa. Electronic document, http://www.alexa.com/siteinfo/2ch.net, accessed: 05/18/2009.  Alexa Allison, Anne 2006  Millenial Monsters: Japanese Toys and the Global Imagination. Berkeley: University of California Press.  Arudou, Debito 2006 Brief: Libel Lawsuit Against 2-channel BBS. 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