Chronology of problems with English-language site
Inappropriate articles translated from magazines
The WaiWai column on the MDN Web site was, as a rule, updated daily between April 2001 and June 2008 and carried a total of 2,561 articles. An additional 346 articles were uploaded onto a related section called "The Face," bringing the total number of similarly translated articles to 2,907.
Approximately 30 publications served as sources of the articles, including monthly magazines, news weeklies, pictorial weeklies, men's and women's weekly magazines, and evening-edition dailies.
Generally speaking, WaiWai stories identified the name of the source publication and carried a photo of the magazine's cover. The lead paragraph summarized the article, and went into more detail from the second paragraph. Most stories were around 600 words, and 60 to 80 percent were essentially translations of the original.
Among the stories carried in the column was one titled "The Cook, the Beast, the Vice and its Lover" describing abnormal sexual preferences (September 2007) and another headlined "Ancient rice festival has reputation smeared by 'therapeutic' facial cream claims" linking a traditional festival to sexual practices (December 2005). The column also reported on Japanese tourists participating in tours involving illegal activity in some countries, including Ecuador and Belarus (July 2003). These stories were translated without confirming any of these claims.
Other stories inappropriately took up issues of underage sex; did not explain how figures cited in the Japanese original were calculated, inviting misunderstanding; and portrayed the comments of several women in a magazine article as indicating a general trend.
The lead paragraph of a story about a manga introducing the Defense Ministry's policies, which features a young girl character, adds a description of the ministry not found in the original article, claiming it is "the successor of the government ministry that gave the world Pearl Harbor and the Rape of Nanking." The explanation given by the column editor for this addition was that it served to accentuate the gap between the ministry and the manga character.
Issues relating to the translation and summarization of copyrighted material are being discussed with the publishers of the source magazines.
Delay in deleting articles, shutting down WaiWai
A new thread was opened on an online bulletin board about WaiWai in late May this year, which was soon flooded with critical opinions about the column, such as "The contents of the column are too vulgar" and "They could cause Japanese people to be misunderstood overseas."
On May 30, the publisher of a monthly magazine protested to the Mainichi Daily News (MDN) for translating one of its articles and carrying it in the WaiWai column.
Managing Editor Hiroshi Takahashi conferred with the staff writer in charge of the column, deleted the articles being criticized on May 31 and blocked access to all past WaiWai articles in the archives after deeming many of them to be inappropriate.
On June 2, the company apologized to the magazine's editorial department.
However, the MDN continued to post articles in the WaiWai column, based on articles from the Sunday Mainichi, a weekly magazine published by the Mainichi Newspapers.
"It was a popular column that had continued since the Mainichi Daily News was published as a printed newspaper. Therefore, we couldn't easily decide to shut it down because we thought there are many regular readers," Takahashi explained.
"I received an official report on June 2 that we had received complaints (about WaiWai). Until then, I hadn't taken notice of WaiWai," said Atsushi Hasegawa, at the time the general manager of the Digital Media Division and a superior of Takahashi.
"I remember having received a report from Takahashi in May about the problem, but I didn't think it was a serious matter," said Akihiko Isono, at the time the deputy general manager of the Digital Media Division.
An online news site reported problems involving WaiWai on June 20. The Digital Media Division shut down WaiWai on June 21, and posted a message on both the MDN and the Japanese site of the Mainichi Shimbun on June 23, admitting that the contents of the articles in question had been inappropriate.
Moreover, we published an apology on June 25 and reported punitive measures against the staff writer in charge and his superiors, including two board members, and the development of the problem on June 28 in the printed and online editions of the Mainichi Shimbun and the MDN.
The Mainichi Newspapers is continuing to explain and apologize to publishing companies whose articles the column quoted without their permission and to the embassies of Ecuador and Belarus and other parties for any inconvenience we may have caused.
With regards to the content that was carried in the WaiWai column, we have refrained from explaining the stories in detail because the facts are uncertain, and carrying them here again may only bring discomfort to readers. It could also inconvenience the publishers of magazines quoted in the column, as well as those concerned who appear in the articles.
41 words used as meta tags for search engines on MDN site
Words designated by foreign staff member; superiors were unaware
On every page of the Mainichi Daily News site, there were 41 keywords used as "meta tags," which were embedded into pages to make it easier for them to be picked up by search engines. Among these keywords were the words "hentai," "geisha," and "japanese girls."
An e-mail from August last year indicates that a foreign Mainichi Daily News staff member designated these words as keywords and conveyed them to a technical staff member. The keywords were designated in conjunction with the renewal of the Mainichi Shimbun site in October last year. The staff member said, "I was busy and I don't remember clearly, but I think it was me who added them." With regard to the meta tags, arrangements were made solely between the people involved, and superiors were not aware of them.
The staff member said it was his understanding that over about the past five years, "hentai" had been part of the English vocabulary as a word referring to adult-themed manga and anime.
On the Japanese Mainichi Shimbun site, keywords vary from section to section, but on the Mainichi Daily News site, the keywords for all sections, including news and WaiWai, were the same.
The problem keywords have now been deleted.
Chronology of the WaiWai problem
Oct. '89: The Mainichi Daily News (MDN) begins to regularly publish the "WaiWai" column.
Oct. '96: The probation period of the staff writer who later took charge of the column begins. (He is appointed as a staff writer on a one-year contract in October 1997.)
March '01: Publication of the MDN as a printed newspaper is suspended.
April '01: The MDN starts anew as a Web site. WaiWai is resumed on the site.
April '05: The staff writer in charge is appointed as chief editor of the MDN.
Oct. '07: An e-mail in English criticizing WaiWai is received from a reader residing in the United States.
March '08: An e-mail in Japanese criticizing WaiWai is received from a reader in Japan.
May 30: The publisher of a monthly magazine protests to the MDN for translating and carrying one of its articles without permission.
May 31: Responding to complaints, the MDN deletes some WaiWai articles.
June 20: A news site reports on the WaiWai problem.
June 21: The WaiWai column is shut down. The Japanese-language Mainichi Shimbun Web site and the MDN publish an explanation of the development of the WaiWai problem and an apology.
June 23: The online edition of the Mainichi Shimbun and the Mainichi Daily News publish an explanation of the development of the WaiWai problem and an apology.
June 25: The printed and online editions of the Mainichi Shimbun and the MDN publish an explanation of the development of the WaiWai problem and an apology.
June 27: The Mainichi Newspapers Co., Ltd. issues three months' disciplinary leave to the staff writer in charge of the column, and takes punitive measures against Director Atsushi Hasegawa and other senior staff members.
June 28: The printed and online editions of the Mainichi Shimbun and the MDN publish a detailed explanation of how the problem developed and how the company is responding to it.
Source: The Mainichi Newspapers Co., Ltd. (http://mdn.mainichi.jp/20080720/0720_04.html)