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Number 1 Shimbun

A Fond Farewell to Charles Smith

A Fond Farewell to Charles Smith
by Anthony Rowley

No1-2018-06 02

Charles Smith was not just a gifted journalist; he was truly a gentleman and a scholar – always courteous in manner and scholarly in his approach to work. A classics graduate from Magdalen College, Oxford, Charles might have been at home in academe but instead he chose journalism – and journalism was fortunate for that.

Charles spent a lifetime in the profession. After a stint on a newspaper in Argentina, he joined the Financial Times in the early 1970's, from which he moved to the Far Eastern Economic Review. He passed away on May 18 at the age of 82 after suffering – gallantly and uncomplainingly, as befitted his character – from malignant lymphoma since early 2015.

"An upstanding man whose intelligence and civility was excelled only by his honesty," said colleague and former Far Eastern Economic Review editor Philip Bowring in one of a wealth of tributes to Charles that have flowed in.

Charles helped "raise the profile" of the Financial Times during his time there, wrote Jurek Martin, a former foreign editor of the paper. He was, in the words of former colleague Tracy Dahlby, a "complex, sophisticated and interesting man." Charles was a "dear friend and great reporter," as the FCCJ's Bradley Martin put it. A man of "many admirable traits" who "wrote with elegance and without artifice," added veteran journalist Mike Tharp.

And, as FCCJ president Khaldon Azhari wrote in the Club's official obituary notice, Charles "was superb at his craft and widely respected by his peers and by the many Japanese he encountered in his reporting activities." During his long reporting career, Charles focused mainly on politics, business and economy. After leaving the Review, he wrote for several publications including Institutional Investor magazine.

Lofty in height at around 193cm, Charles also stood tall in many other senses of the word. "I always looked up to him," said former Tokyo bureau chief of the Wall Street Journal Urban Lehner.

There was something almost schoolmasterly in his bearing, but something almost boyish in his frequent delighted chuckle and his equally frequent warm and genuine smile. Modesty and authority existed side by side within Charles, and while he was kind and good humored, he was an exacting taskmaster who could command respect from those working with him.

After joining the Financial Times, he worked for a while in London covering Asian affairs before being posted in Tokyo in 1973 as bureau chief. When his assignment in Japan came to an end, he joined the Far Eastern Economic Review as its Tokyo bureau chief in order to stay in Japan, which he loved.

The FT was, and is, a somewhat dour and austere institution that is well regarded within the international financial community while the Review was a more rumbustious and often inspired publication that was well regarded within the Asian political and diplomatic community.

The fact Charles was successful in both worlds was testament to his ability to see many sides of a story and adapt to different environments and people. He was well respected among the Japanese in Japan and the Chinese in Hong Kong with whom he worked, as well as among his foreign colleagues.

Charles was a respected figure among the many Japanese government and other officials whom he frequently met and interviewed. In particular, former senior Bank of Japan official and FCCJ Associate member Shijuro Ogata, for whom Charles organized frequent lunches at the Club, was a close friend and admirer – a sentiment that was fully reciprocated.

Charles was a well-known presence within the FCCJ. Whether serving on the Board of Directors, asking polite but incisive questions of guest speakers at professional luncheons and briefings, taking charge of various musical events or simply socializing in his invariably good-humored way in the bar, everyone respected him.

Music was one of his true passions. A gifted musician and accomplished cello player himself, Charles often performed with family and friends, including at the FCCJ where he repeatedly served on the Music Committee. Despite his illness, he maintained his playing, to the delight of his many musical friends.

Charles' funeral service at Scott Hall on the Waseda University campus was deeply moving, with his widow Katsuko-san and their daughters Sara and Yumi comporting themselves with great dignity. It is hard to forget Yumi-san playing a violin tribute to her father there despite her tears. Charles was proud of them and they of him. He also had three children by his first marriage.

Katsuko-san aided Charles greatly in the latter stages of his career in journalism, helping for example to compile "league tables" of investment analysts for the Institutional Investor among other things. She was also a charming presence by the side of Charles on numerous professional and social engagements at the Club.

Charles had only recently finished writing his memoirs, which began serialization in the April and May issues of the Number 1 Shimbun under the title "Mr. Smith goes to Tokyo." A memorial get-together is planned at the Club in the near future. Charles will be sorely missed by the very many, including myself who held him in very great and affectionate regard. God bless him.

Published in: June 2018

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