Do Web Interfaces Have Politics? A Japanese Social Network Site mixi and the Imagined Boundary of “Japan.” [Conference Notes]

by Latoya Peterson

These are the notes for “Do Web Interfaces Have Politics? A Japanese Social Network Site mixi and the Imagined Boundary of “Japan.”” The notes are from a paper by Ryuta Komaki, presented at the Texas A & M University Race and Ethnic Studies Institute’s Symposium exploring Race, Ethnicity and (New) Media.

  • This paper looks at mixi( A Japanese social networking site) with a specific focus on its web interfaces
  • Komaki argues that the interface has its own politics
  • About mixi
    • Japan based/Japanese language SNS (social network sites)
    • Similar to MySpace, Cyworld (Korea), Facebook
    • First SNS to target the Japanese market
    • 16.3 million registered users
    • Invitation only
  • Here, Komaki begins to describe the Racial/Ethnic Minorities in Japan. He notes these are social categories, and this is not the same as official designations.
    • Zainichi Koreans and other Japanese-born foreign nationals
    • People of Okinawan origin and Okinawan descent
      • Some argue that Okinawa was Japan’s first colonial project
    • Immigrant workers
    • Kikoku-shijo (Returnee children)
    • (The Ainu People) – Hokkaido
  • Interfaces influence user behavior as well as organizes the activities and experiences of the users
  • mixi Provides a “Menu Driven” Identity
    • “[The] interface feature [of the major portal sites, that forces the user to choose ‘what’ they are, and allows only one choice at a time], enforces a menu-driven sense of personal identity that works by progressively narrowing the choices of subject positions available to the user.” –Lisa Nakamura, 2002
    • Asks for the birthplace
    • Drop down, no free text entries
    • Lists prefectures, then city and township
    • poses problems for those born outside of Japan
    • Only option for those not born in Japan is (Overseas) then (Countries)
  • mixi is based on the assumption that experiences and memories at certain places in Japan will be standard; however these things are influenced by race, sexuality, etc.
  • mixi’s interface that renders those who deviate from the model of the ‘typical user’ as a ‘non fitting’ part of ‘typical users’
  • Komaki’s conclusion is that mixi, through use of drop downs and choices, reinforces the ideas and boundaries of Japan, and shows a preference to those born within Japan proper. Many people who live in Japan and have done so for their entire lives have their “otherness” reinforced by mixi. In his paper (currently unpublished) Komaki explains how through the choices provided to users, mixi encourages assimilation and rewards users that “fit in” with the established idea of what Japan should be. Users who do not “fit in” like children born overseas, immigrant workers, or Zanichi Koreans find their networks severely limited and their ability to connect with others compromised.