Monday, January 10, 2011

Paging the Asahi Shimbun

I've never had to call out an entire newspaper before, but after reading "S. Korean golfers dominate Japan, world," by Atsuo Negishi and Issei Sakakibara (courtesy of a thread at Seoul, I have to question the Asahi Shimbun's editorial judgment. The premise of the article is that the top men's and women's professional golf tours in Japan, the JGTO and JLPGA, are all of a sudden in danger because Kyung-Tae Kim and Sun-Ju Ahn, both South Koreans, each won their respective tour's money title in 2010. Oh, and because Korean women won 15 of 34 JLPGA events and 9 of 25 LPGA events in 2010. And because there are more Korean women ranked in the top 50 in the world than Japanese and Americans combined (20 vs. 19). And because Korean golfers dominated the Asian Games in 2006 and 2010. And because as the number of Koreans on the LPGA has increased, its schedule has shrunk. And because Carolyn Bivens floated an English-language requirement for LPGA membership. And because Japan's only and Asia's 1st winner of an American major is lobbying the Japanese government to increase funding to develop world-class Japanese women golfers. And because an anonymous tournament organizer implied Japanese tv viewers can't stand to see Japanese corporate types hand winner's checks to Korean winners of tournaments they sponsored. And because tv ratings went down significantly for the JLPGA's season-ending major, the Ricoh Cup. And because a Japanese tv producer envisions vague and dramatic globalization-induced changes.

Yeah, the whole thing is thinly-veiled, badly-organized, barely-thought-out editorializing--and my paraphrase actually attempted to find some coherence in the article's writing and reasoning. With its logic deficits, context gaps, and genre ambiguities, I doubt it would get better than a C- in any university-level intro to newspaper writing course (and that's after grade inflation). And yet it appeared on the English-language website of the Asahi Shimbun on January 7th!

I don't have time to do a full-blown critique--we just got back to our soon-to-be-old home from picking up the keys at the new one and are trying to push our own move up 3 days--so I'll just offer a sketch of one here.

(1) Shaky understanding of recent JLPGA history.

Consider a sentence like this: "The women's golf industry in Japan has succeeded and gained as much popularity as men's golf because female golfers became top prize winners. But this business model is becoming shaky."

What does this mean? Japanese women have been "top prize winners" on the JLPGA for its entire history, except when Ai-Yu Tu had great years and now, decades later, when Sun-Ju Ahn did. No, what kick-started the JLPGA to a new level was Ai Miyazato winning as a high schooler--and then continuing to win as a pro--on a tour that seemed utterly dominated by Yuri Fudoh. Their rivalry and all it symbolized fuelled the JLPGA's ascent and contributed to the JGTO's relative decline. Until Ai-chan left for--and struggled on--the LPGA, that is, and another high schooler won--and continued to win as a pro--on the JGTO. Ryo Ishikawa has more to do with any real or imagined shakiness of the JLPGA business model than any Korean golfer. And perhaps Mika Miyazato does, as well.

It's not like the authors are completely ignorant of this. Indeed, the sentences before the one I quoted covers virtually the same time period I discussed in the previous paragraph: "Female Japanese golfers have also been performing well and gaining in popularity since Ai Miyazato debuted as a teenager on the JLPGA Tour in 2004. In her footsteps have followed other talented young golfers such as Momoko Ueda, Miho Koga, Sakura Yokomine and Mika Miyazato." Never mind that Ai-chan's debut actually was in 2003, the real problem with the second sentence is the way it lumps Mika Miyazato, who's of an entirely different golfing generation than her sempai, into a follower of Ai-sama's footsteps. What makes Mikan distinctive is the way she didn't follow the Ai-sama path but instead chose to make her pro debut on the LPGA rather than the JLPGA. Given Mikan's big leap into the LPGA's top 20 and win and T2 in the 2 JLPGA majors she entered in 2010, she might well have provided a similar spark of a generational showdown that pushed the JLPGA to the forefront of public attention around 8 years ago had she decided to follow Ai-sama's path.

But let's face it, there's a deeper problem than lack of historical context going on here. Are the authors really claiming that the Japanese golf industry's "business model" is to hope for an extraordinarily talented Japanese teenager to come along and do nothing but wait for the next one? Where is the evidence that this really is the JLPGA's business model?

(2) Shaky use of logic and evidence.

Let me turn to a different passage that illustrates the severity and scope of these problems: "Japan is also fearing the affect [sic] that victories by South Korean golfers will have on corporate sponsors and ad revenue."

Putting aside the image of a personified Mt. Fuji appearing to one of the authors in a dream and the goddess Amaterasu appearing to the other, each with a mission to convey this urgent message on behalf of an anxious nation, as well as an error in word choice I see about 10 times a week from my own students (99% of whom grew up in English), this really is all about the affect--the feelings of Japanese television viewers and corporate executives. Here's the authors' Exhibit A:

TV viewer ratings stood at 12.4 percent when Sakura Yokomine won the last event of the 2009 JLPGA Tour, according to Video Research Ltd. But the ratings slipped to 7.6 percent when Park In-bee won the final tournament of 2010.

"When a non-Japanese golfer wins, viewers will change the channel before the corporate sponsor's presidents appear to hand out trophies," said a tournament organizer who wished to remain anonymous. "That's disappointing for corporate sponsors."

Clearly the convenient unsourced quote is meant to provide a gloss on the facts that precede it. But hold on just a second there. Rewind. Pause. Let's do a little experiment here. Read over my Ricoh Cup posts from 2009 (Round 1, Round 2, Round 3, Round 4) and 2010 (Round 1, Round 2, Round 3, Round 4). What did you notice? Perhaps something like this:

  • Ai Miyazato and Momoko Ueda in the hunt in 2009. Not playing in 2010.
  • Sakura Yokomine, Shinobu Moromizato, and Chie Arimura all vying to win the tournament and break Shiho Oyama's single-season-winnings record in the process in 2009. Sun-Ju Ahn having already clinched the money-list title the week before the Ricoh Cup in 2010, but without any hope of breaking any winnings record.
  • Good scoring in 2009. Bad scoring in 2010.
  • An exciting, wide-open shootout that came down to the final holes in 2009. A boring battle of attrition on Sunday in 2010.
Hmm, I'd say the nationality of the winner had everything to do with this year's lower ratings, wouldn't you? Me, I'd like to hear about the ratings of the final JGTO event, when Ryo Ishikawa had a tiny chance to steal the money-list title from Kyung-Tae Kim. How did they compare to the previous year's, when he and Yuta Ikeda were battling for #1 on the money-list but out of contention? There are so many more examples like this, but shooting fish in a barrel loses its luster after awhile. I mean, you can't even make sushi out of them. (3) Emphatic but ambiguous quotes. Here's what Hisako Higuchi is quoted as saying: "Japan only offers a few days of training while South Korea offers 200 days of training. There's no way we can beat the South Koreans under the current circumstances." This feels like a fragment from a longer conversation. Is she talking about the very best young Koreans, like Ji-Yai Shin, Na Yeon Choi, In-Kyung Kim, Song-Hee Kim, Inbee Park, and Sun-Ju Ahn? I wonder if each of them really received the same intensive training? Inbee Park played in the U.S. as an amateur, Song-Hee Kim got her start on the Futures Tour, and I'm not even sure if In-Kyung Kim ever played on the KLPGA, either. And who is that "we"? Certainly, none of Mika Miyazato's peer group has come close to realizing their potential as quickly as she's begun to realize hers. But let's not forget that Inbee Park and Sun-Ju Ahn have already endured slumps in their young careers and that Seon Hwa Lee, who a year and a half ago would have been near the head of anyone's list of top young Korean golfers, played so badly on the JLPGA in 2010 that she didn't even bother going back to Q-School. It's way too soon to tell how the new blood from both countries will stack up against each other, career-wise. Maybe the "we" speaks of up-and-coming Japanese youngsters, and maybe there Higuchi is trying to get across how far behind their Korean counterparts they are, but doesn't "no way" seem kind of extreme when you're talking about teenagers? OK, just one more quote, this time from "golf tournament producer" Sho Tobari (who I gather from the context is some kind of tv guy?). I can't tell if he's trying to say that Japanese professional tours need to start hosting tournaments outside Japan, allowing other tours to co-sponsor more events within Japan, accept that Japanese sponsors will start looking more to other tours, or some or all of the above:
"The next few years will be a period of dramatic change," said golf tournament producer Sho Tobari. "While the U.S. LPGA tour is reducing the number of tournaments, the European LPGA tour is aiming to expand its market size by becoming more international. Japan will be caught in that trend, too." [...] "In the short term, the golf tournament market in Japan may shrink, and the number of tournaments may decline," Tobari said. "But the golf market itself will not shrink. Corporate sponsors will have to consider ways to disseminate their message to the rest of the world and not just to the Japanese market."
Huh? What does this have to do with those darn Koreans again? Somebody help me out here! From where I sit, the JLPGA is looking like an increasingly attractive option for golfers from around the world who don't want to be part-time professionals. Some, like Mi-Jeong Jeon, who's quoted explaining why she loves competing in Japan, may even choose to make the JLPGA their only, or their primary, tour. But this is a sign of the strength of the JLPGA and its potential for future growth. What am I missing?

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