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On the Ministry of Foreign Affairs homepage’s popularity January 29, 2007

Posted by fukumimi in Internet, Japan, Politics.

Apparently, according to this Asahi article(in Japanese), Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs is the second most popular government foreign ministry site in the world, after the US State Department site.

The claim is based on statistics provided by Alexa. Of course, no need to go through the same old arguments as to why Alexa rankings are not the most reliable metric, especially in an international context.

The other members of the top 5 list reinforces this suspicion. 3rd is Saudi Arabia, 4th China, 5th France. So it looks like the Japanese page is 2nd most popular amongst English language Internet Explorer users. (I’ve never seen an Alexa toolbar installed on a Japanese PC, ever)

In what I would characterise as misleading journalism, Asahi includes a chart depicting the growth in MoFA site page views alongside the article.

[Labels from right to left are: 9-11,  Koizumi’s visit to the DPRK,  DPRK abductees return to Japan, Chinese SARS outbreak, Outbreak of Iraq War, DPRK missile test, and DPRK nuke test. The labels seem pretty arbitary, as they don’t really all correspond to spikes in pageviews. Note the spike in December 2003 or the one in the summer of 2000 which are left unannotated. I wonder if there is a reason these more prominent spikes were left unmentioned. The 2003 spike is most likely related to the killing in Iraq of a MoFA bureaucrat (who happened to be the subject of rumours relating to a certain member of the Imperial household) and the 2000 spike, although I’m less certain on this one, looks like the Okinawa G7 summit]

Note that it shows a fairly steep positive gradient.

Compare to the Alexa stats for mofa.go.jp.

Which doesn’t show anywhere as much growth. (The Alexa stats show the downturn in the last 16 months much more clearly, too)

I’m guessing that the text was written with the Alexa stats, and the graphic is using pageview data provided by the MoFA.

Hmmm….. Since when have the Asahi and the MoFA become so friendly, anyway?

The piece has a couple of hilarious moments, albeit unintentionally.

The article says that MoFA bureaucrats are baffled as to the reason for the site’s popularity, but there are people who credit the fact that content gets uploaded on to the site quickly, and the site’s ease of use. Yes, I’m sure they are the real reasons. Not.

The article also proudly advertises the fact that an IT PR office was set up in July 2005, bringing in someone from the private sector (from IBM Japan, as it happens) to head up the new unit. This Kamimura-san who heads up the new office says: “Historically, Japanese ministry websites were just about information disclosure”, and the article goes on to say that he worked to strengthen the ability of the web presence to disseminate information and the government message. (fine line between that and propaganda….)

Whilst Alexa is a sub-optimal tool for measuring relative popularity, it is OK for looking at historical trends. It is rather ironic that the downturn in pageviews seems to coincide with the appointment of this IT “expert” to revamp the website……

Having touted the site’s popularity based on the relative rankings vs 109 other nations’ websites as measured by third party statistics, I don’t think the MoFA can turn around and discredit the recent downward trend without making itself look really stupid.

Oh yes, if the graph used in the article is legitimate (if it is, it was most likely provided by the MoFA, because no amount of fiddling with axes will turn the Alexa numbers into that graph), then we have that huge growth in pageviews to explain. My bet is that a substantial portion is due to the cat and mouse game with hackers and the odd DDoS spambot network attack. I’d sure like to see where the access is coming from. Who knows, they may be inflating the numbers themselves to give them a reason to ask for an increased budget to “better serve the taxpayer”….

[PS to Asahi – You really need to think about the use of correct units in your reporting. Pageviews per day/week/month????]


1. Payara Confessor - January 29, 2007

One of my friends used to work at a government research lab. I remember him telling me once about one initiative that they took very seriously (they used to give him a continual hard-time for not doing his bit). There was an activity that all departmental members had to perform everyday – “click on the external website landing page 3 times”.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the pageview figures weren’t the result of something similar.

2. Adamu - January 29, 2007

In MOFA’s defense, the site is pretty decent in terms of the information it offers. The information is well-organized and loads fast. I use it sometimes to look at the US-Japan economic negotiations, and it doesn’t really have the “stiff bureaucratic website” feel that the article mentions (though it’s nowhere near the excellent State Dept site with its same-day posting of press conference video and ample RSS feeds. Mmm…)

I wouldn’t be surprised if this story was 100% written by MOFA officials to promote their initiatives to revamp the site or maybe boost the credibility of the expert they hired (though I don’t really see much change in the site!). Asahi has been struggling to rebuild its relationship with the government after some reporting scandals (the NHK censorship incident and a fabricated article about the formation of a new party during the 2005 general election, to name two examples), so maybe doing MOFA’s bidding every so often makes it easier for the reporters to show their faces in the taxpayer-funded press facilities at the ministry building.

3. Japan News for January 30, 2007 » Japan Probe - January 30, 2007

[…] Fukumini analyzes the popularity of Japan’s foreign ministry website. [Link] […]

4. fukumimi - January 30, 2007


When I wrote “I’d sure like to see where the access is coming from” it did cross my mind that they might be using some rather sneaky tricks like actually counting all visits to the mofa.go.jp domain including internal traffic, and also aggregating the visits to the website of the numerous affiliated institutions where the bureaucrats spend their semi-retirement.


I guess when they totally over-spec the site to withstand a concerted DDoS attack from overseas (no prizes for guessing which country) hackers, it is no wonder it is blisteringly fast on a quiet day.

You shouldn’t give the MoFA too many ideas regarding video streaming/podcasting because that just sounds like a great excuse to order a bunch more boxes from Big Blue just so we get a chance to see some dull bureaucrat’s pate as he reads a statement off a piece of paper on the lectern in front of him. I would prefer that they actually invested on getting some people with a bit more personal communication skills first.

5. Durf - January 31, 2007

Actually Takashima Hatsuhisa (the senior 報道官 at MOFA for some time) always struck me as a friendly guy and competent speaker. I worked with him in Tokyo and overseas a few times and confirmed that yes, he was making comments and answering questions without a sheet of paper in front of him. 😉 Not sure about the person they’ve got in there now; I haven’t been doing as much work with the MOFA gang in the last year or so.

6. Sources « I, Shingen - February 16, 2007

[…] MOFA site is great, popular website, a topic which Fukumimi has explored quite well. It has a wealth of material, although its releases are generally brief in nature. I’m […]

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