While there are genuine differences between Japan and the West, oftentimes you can find cultural equivalents with just a little searching. Japan may not have ice cream trucks, for example, but mobile food exists in the form of sweet potato vendors who cruise the streets of residential areas. Christmas is Japan is usually spent on a romantic date or partying with friends, but then everyone goes back home to spend time with the family over New Year’s.
Likewise, satirical website Kyoko News exists as Japan’s counterpart to The Onion, running stories that almost seem plausible, but never actually happened. Nonetheless, it seems the United Nation’s Children’s Fund (UNICEF) either didn’t get or didn’t appreciate being the subject of one of Kyoko News’ recent jokes. The organization eventually got the retraction it was seeking, but not without seeing the complications involved in asking for one from a website that states upfront that what it’s saying isn’t true.
It’s hard to think that anyone might take Kyoko News’ stories seriously. For starters, the kanji characters used for “Kyoko,” 虚構, literally mean “fabricated.” Further hints that everything on the website is made-up can be found on the top page’s side bar. The yen/US dollar exchange rate is given as “between 100 and 200 yen to the dollar.” Whereas serious news sites will tell their readers about train delays, Kyoko News alerts visitors to which conveyor-belt sushi restaurants are experiencing technical difficulties. And as for the weather map? It’s from the first Dragon Quest game.
▼ Forecasters predict a 20% chance of slimes.
Each and every Kyoko News article also has a bit of hidden text, written in white letters on a white background, next to the headline, reading “This is fake.”
Still, sarcasm isn’t quite the comedic go-to in Japan that it is in the English-speaking world (which is why my jokes tend to confuse people here, as opposed to annoying them like back in the States). The humor behind some of Kyoko News’ articles, such as China providing smartphones to all members of its military, or anime legend Hayao Miyazaki’s swan song The Wind Rises being adapted into a live-action Hollywood film (while being expanded to a trilogy, of course), is so subtle that UNICEF objected to a recent Kyoko News article about the international humanitarian organization.
At 8 a.m. on November 18, Kyoko News posted a story saying that in response to calls for greater transparency in how UNICEF spends the donations it collects, the organization was releasing detailed accounts of its expenditures. Kyoko News went on to state that among the projects financed through donations was an invisible toilet placed in Tokyo’s Showa Memorial Park.
We’re not sure exactly where Kyoko News expected the laughs to come from. The website itself explains that the story was written as a joke regarding complaints about donations not being spent in the manner that provides the most necessary aid, but how exactly is the invisible toilet funny? Is “invisible” supposed to be a play on words with “transparent?” We’re not sure.
Questionable humor potential aside, it seems obvious that the article isn’t meant to be taken seriously. For one thing, Showa Memorial Park is funded by the Japanese government, circumventing the need for UNICEF funds. Secondly, invisible toilets haven’t been invented yet, well, as far as we know, since we wouldn’t be able to see them if they had.
▼ Could the famed Shibuya Scramble intersection actually be filled with invisible toilets?
UNICEF, afraid that Kyoko News readers might be misled into believing the organization was literally pissing away donations, contacted the site and asked that the post be removed, which it quickly was.
Unfortunately, when your website’s entire reputation is that all the information it contains is made-up, setting the record straight can be tricky. This involved making a statement on the Kyoko News website saying that the previous post (which they’d prefaced by identifying as not true), was indeed not true, while the post making the correction itself was in fact genuine, unlike anything else on the site. In the end, Kyoko News had to send out a tweet as well, informing readers that yes, the retraction was true, and that UNICEF had not spent any money on futuristic toilets for Showa Memorial Park.
So, to recap, a confusing website made a confusing joke, which prompted a confusing objection, which in turn necessitated a confusing retraction.
Please excuse us as we go back to things our brains can instantly understand, such as the joy of watching a cute real cat reacting to a cute toy cat.