Why QAnon Flopped in Japan

It failed the test for conspiracy connoisseurs, and the public.

By Matt Alt

Mr. Alt is a Japan-based writer, translator and localizer who specializes in adapting Japanese content for global audiences.March 26, 2021, 1:00 a.m. ET

TOKYO — For over 40 years, Japan’s leading purveyor of shadowy phenomena, Mu magazine, has peddled Bigfoot, U.F.O.s and the occult to a ravenous fan base. Alien civilizations and the biology of the Loch Ness Monster have been popular cover stories. A conspiracy theory doesn’t quite arrive in the country without a nod from the monthly publication.

Yet Mu, with almost 60,000 readers and devotees including a former prime ministera celebrated anime director and J-Pop idols, held back from publishing the obvious feature on the era’s biggest conspiracy theory: QAnon.

That movement hit peak notoriety with the storming of the U.S. Capitol in January, and its baseless core narrative became widely familiar during the coronavirus pandemic. Its followers are convinced that a cabal of Satan-worshipping, child-molesting elites controls the world, unleashing Covid-19 and 5G technology as part of its plot. QAnon has found believers in more than 70 countries, from British mums against child trafficking to anti-lockdown marchers in Germany and even an Australian wellness guru.

But it flopped in Japan, a country that’s no stranger to conspiracy theories. Even as Western media has portrayed otherwise, there are hardly any Q followers among the Japanese and it has failed the test for the nation’s conspiracy connoisseurs. “It’s too naïve for our readership,” Takeharu Mikami, the editor of Mu since 2005, told the Asahi Shimbun newspaper last month. . . . “

“. . . So why the tepid reception? Japan’s cultural and political peculiarities seem to have largely inoculated people against QAnon.

Much of Japanese culture takes pains to avoid conflict, leaving little room for the ideological combat favored by QAnon supporters. “The Japanese don’t talk about politics openly. It’s almost taboo, because of the possibility of contentious confrontation,” says Prof. Kaori Hayashi, who teaches media and journalism studies at the University of Tokyo. When surveyed, roughly half of Japanese voters claim no political affiliation. Without the accelerant of identity politics, QAnon’s polarizing memes just can’t grip the Japanese psyche.

Another defense against misinformation is the dominance of Japan’s legacy print and broadcast media, an unintended effect of its gate-keeping. Backed by a fairness doctrine in national broadcast law, programming must avoid distorting facts, stay politically fair and not harm public safety. The law has hampered the rise of overtly partisan television and radio; there is no 24/7 broadcast news cycle clamoring for scoops.” . . .