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Number 1 Shimbun

Tributes to Charles Smith



An upstanding man whose intelligence and civility were excelled only by his honesty. We first met in 1973, were colleagues for the next twenty years, and were always in touch in the years that followed. A lunch with Katsuko and Charles at their home last July provides a delightful memory of our last meeting, not to forget Charles’ subsequent enlightening comments on a manuscript I had sent him. A fond farewell.

-PHILIP BOWRING, Financial Times and Far Eastern Economic Review


Someone I always respected for his calm judgment and kindness.

-HUGH SANDEMAN, The Economist


It must have been in the early 1970s when I first met Charles, in the Nikkei Building “Gaijin Ghetto,” where quite a few news organizations had their Tokyo bureaus. My first impression of him was of a quiet, wise man with dignity and patience, sitting in the corner with a gentle smile on his face. Over more than four decades, Charles remained the same. This is hard to explain, but I felt good to know that Charles Smith, who knew Japan so well, was always there with us. With his departure, we lost such a dear and important friend. He was a true gentleman and a great journalist. We will miss him.

-HIDEKO TAKAYAMA, The Baltimore Sun, Newsweek, Bloomberg News


A gentle man. I miss him.

-MASAHIKO ISHIZUKA, Nihon Keizai Shimbun


He was a friend and mentor. From the moment I set foot in Japan as his colleague in 1987 to the time I left in 1990 he was a wonderful guide. I learnt a lot from him. not least a philosophy of life I would call resilient kindness.



"Resilient kindness" is a wonderful expression, and much what Charles was and meant for so many of his friends and colleagues.



Regrets, I've had a few, and one of mine is not having gotten to know Charles Smith better. He was a congenial colleague -- the guy down the hall I always enjoyed talking to. He and I were regulars together at the monthly salons of Shijuro Ogata of the Bank of Japan, and as much as I was charmed by Ogata-san I often learned as much about the Japanese political economy from Charles’s questions and observations as from the urbane central banker. Charles was a civilizing force in the wilds of the Gaijin Ghetto. He enjoyed a good time as much as anyone but he never stopped being a cellist. I always looked up to him.

Last summer, for the first time in a couple of decades, we met again at the FCCJ and had some good conversations and to my delight, he offered to share early drafts of his memoirs with me. Through them I got to know Charles better, which only made me wish all the more that we had crossed over the line from colleagues to friends back then. If, like me, you wish you had known Charles better, I suggest you read his memoirs in Number 1 Shimbun. As modest and self-deprecating as these memoirs will remind you Charles always was, what will impress you most in them is what a complex, sophisticated and interesting man he was. I am terribly sad that he is no longer with us. Charles was the kind of guy you had to respect and be fond of. I am grateful I got a chance to see him again last summer during the Ghetto Rats reunion and especially grateful to have read his very interesting memoirs. May he rest in peace.

-URBAN LEHNER, Wall Street Journal



Charles had been through such a lot in recent years, yet he emerged with his trademark wit and quiet charm very much intact. I admired his resilience and was happy to be back in touch with him in the last year or so. We traded emails about his memoir and the odd reminiscence, and I was reminded of his gentle manner and incisive mind. With respect and admiration for a valued colleague and friend, with deepest condolences to Katsuko, and with gratitude for the memories,

-TRACY DAHLBY, FEER, The Washington Post, Newsweek


Charles Smith and I stood at a corner in Tokyo's Otemachi business district. (At six feet four inches (193 cm.), Charles was one Japan correspondent I literally had to look up to. As we dutifully stood to wait for the WALK signal, Charles raised his big head as if sniffing the air. “What's a bond? Do you know what a bond is, Mike?” I was flummoxed. This was the Financial Times's bureau chief. In my view, he was the best foreign correspondent in Japan. And he was asking me for the meaning of “bond”? I stuttered drivel. We resumed walking to a briefing at the Industrial Bank of Japan.

Charles and I were neighbors in the Gaijin Ghetto, a corner of the 8th floor of the Nihon Kezai Shimbun building. I spent seven years in his orbit there. We also fraternized at the Press Club and at Geoff Tudor and Richard Hanson's getaway on the Miura Peninsula. When Richard married Keiko-san, I gave one of the toasts. After the mass kampai, I introduced Charles, the next speaker, as the best foreign correspondent in Japan. This was in a room filled with foreign correspondents. Richard, who was Robin to Charles's Batman, in a typical Brockton, Massachusetts irreverence then referred to the three-person chamber ensemble in which Charles played cello as the “Chuck Smith Band.” With typical good-natured aplomb, Charles gave it one of his soft brays.

That suggests one of Charles’s many admirable traits. He kicked ass and took names but never took himself too seriously. He was like a killer whale in a cloud of krill, sifting through facts and stats and briefs, emerging on the other side with what Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein calls “the best obtainable version of the truth.” Charles wrote with elegance and without artifice. This, for example, from his memoir: “For a couple of months after the news from the Middle East turned ominous, the consumption super-truck stayed in overdrive. It was good that the truck eventually turned out to have brakes.”

The best gift I could ever give the Far Eastern Economic Review came in 1984 when I finished a three-year tour as FEER's Tokyo bureau chief. I was headed to The Wall Street Journal’s San Francisco office. Derek Davies and Philip Bowring were FEER's top editors, and both were ready to lambaste me – until I gave them Charles. He was leaving the FT and wanted to stay in Japan. FEER suddenly had an opening in Tokyo. An arranged marriage! They might well have said, OK, Buck, don't let the doa hit you in the arse on your way out.

Charles’s legacies? A million well-chosen words over nearly a half-century explaining Japan. Cello recordings. Dozens of friends unanimous in their view of you as a gentle man. And, Chuck, a bond is an instrument of indebtedness of the bond issuer to the holder. Got it? Me neither. Cheers, Chuck.

-MIKE THARP, WSJ, FEER, U.S. News & World Report, Club President 1989-90


Charles was a dear friend. Among our great adventures, I think our biggest was organizing a December holiday-season sing-along of Handel's Messiah at the Press Club. Charles did most of the work, including recruiting members of the Chuck Smith Band to serve as the orchestra and bringing in professionals as conductor and vocal soloists. This was such fun we did it for several years.

I was pleased that he entrusted me with the task of editing his memoirs – and I'm even more pleased that he finished them. Current readers of Number 1 Shimbun are beneficiaries. There we can read in detail about how one of the great reporters dealt with the Japan story in its heyday. Rest in peace, Charles.

-BRADLEY MARTIN, Baltimore Sun, Asian WSJ, Newsweek, Asia Times, Bloomberg


Smith-san and I worked together on FCCJ’s Music Committee in 2006 and both of us worked as hard as professional producers. We scheduled a concert every month. Because our membership had little interest in classical music, both of us had to sell tickets month by month for a year to our outside non-member friends as well as negotiating with musicians and arranging the concerts. Fortunately, we were able to invite really world-class musicians despite the tiny reward we were able to offer for their performance.

When Smith-san was a boy he wanted to be a professional pianist, but his father insisted it would be impossible for him to live on music. Following his father’s advice he found another talent in journalism. But he really loved music and was himself a good cello player. Since I also played cello once, as a member of an orchestra, we had similar tastes in music. That made working together a lot of fun.

Perhaps the most exasperating experience we had was the sudden cancellation of a brass music concert that Smith-san organized. We sold all the tickets – over a hundred – to our friends, we made programs, and the wind players themselves had been practicing hard to play for “the foreign correspondents.” Then, out of blue, we were told to cancel the concert only a few days before the scheduled date. A European foreign minister was going to visit the club, and journalism takes priority here. As it turned out, the foreign minister didn’t show up at all, and we received no apology.

Despite such problems, Smith-san fully enjoyed the concerts. Sometimes he turned the music pages for a pianist who was accompanying a violinist, and we all enjoyed watching a foreign correspondent turning pages on the stage. Smith-san was particularly exuberant when he shared dinner with a musician after a concert. He was the perfect host for such occasions.

-MAKI WAKIYAMA, Professional Associate Member


When Charles Smith moved to the Far Eastern Economic Review from the Financial Times’s Tokyo Bureau – which in 1984 was two doors away on the same floor in the Nikkei Building – I was at the Review. We often went together to interview many famous people and some not so famous. It always impressed me that when interviewees referred to past incidents, history or cultural matters, Charles could respond knowledgably to almost all of them. I felt so proud of him, and often said to myself, “See our correspondent! What a professional he is!”




Charles Smith, who raised the profile of this newspaper’s coverage of Japan in the 1970s and ‘80s, has died in Tokyo at the age of 82. He was the second FT bureau chief in the Japanese capital, arriving in 1973 six years after the first office had been closed down, and serving until 1984. Born in London on June 13, 1935, his mother was Dame Annis Gillie, a pioneer in Britain among female doctors. It was an uncle, Darsie Gillie, a Paris correspondent for the Guardian, who inspired his interest in journalism and he first joined the FT as a graduate trainee in 1959, having graduated from Magdalen College, Oxford, with a degree in classics. But he left the newspaper to work for an English language newspaper in Buenos Aires before returning as the FT’s Latin America and, later, Far East Asia editor.

His specialty was detailed reporting on Japanese business and the wider economy. That fit the times as the country consolidated its remarkable recovery from the devastation of World War Two but remained reticent on the international stage. It’s politics were then considered too opaque to be worthy of much attention. Prime ministers, all from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, came and went every two years without apparently materially influencing policies.

It was not an easy beat for a foreign correspondent in Tokyo. Japanese institutions, including government and corporations, remained mostly closed to international reporters. The Japanese “press club” system, which controlled access to ministries and companies alike, specifically excluded non-natives. This only began to break down in the 1980s, mostly because of the initiatives of reform-minded Japanese bureaucrats, led, ironically, by the Bank of Japan, previously notoriously close-mouthed like most central banks. Charles pecked away diligently at such morsels as were available and dug out some that were never designed to see the light of day. He developed a particularly sharp understanding of the workings of the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI), widely seen as the powerful architect of the Japanese economic miracle.

David Pilling, a successor in Tokyo a quarter of a century later, remembers him as “the sort of person who puts the ‘gentle’ into gentleman. He was never one to flaunt his deep knowledge of Japan or his intellect” and was always willing to listen to “people half his age.”

But as he dug his claws into Japan, so did the country into him. Like several other foreign correspondents of his generation, he never wanted to leave Japan, so when the FT decided his time was up after ten years, he left the paper and became Tokyo bureau chief of the Far Eastern Economic Review. Apart from two years as an editor for the magazine in Hong Kong he remained in Tokyo for the rest of his life. Personally shy, even ascetic, his great indulgence was his cello, which he played with Tokyo ensembles he put together. He is survived by his wife Katsuko, their two daughters and three older children from an earlier marriage.

-JUREK MARTIN, FT, Club President 1985-86


I am deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Charles. I will always remember him as a calming and erudite influence on the FCCJ and I was honored to have him serve as Secretary on the board during my presidency. He was one of our most talented members, and my time at the Club and in journalism has been greatly enriched by knowing him.

-STEVEN HERMAN, Voice of America; Club President 1997-98


When I arrived in Tokyo in 1983 as an enthusiastic but essentially ignorant young foreign correspondent for The Economist, to have Charles Smith in the next-door office in the then Nikkei building’s “Gaijin Ghetto” was a joy and a great bonus. He was not just welcoming but very supportive in an utterly un-condescending way, offering guidance and suggestions freely and patiently but without ever trying to impose them. Then, and in his next career at the FEER and beyond, I found Charles to be the essence of what a good journalist should be: painstaking in his research, fair in his judgments and always interested in the story rather than the byline. He was a great role model for us all.”

-BILL EMMOTT, The Economist


Charles was an old-fashioned figure of an Englishman at the FT office, along the corridor in Nikkei’s Gaijin Ghetto, but took the nickname “Chuck” from younger American denizens like Richard Hanson and Mike Tharp in good spirits. We both jumped respective ships to the FEER in the 1980s. When on the desk in Hong Kong I had the pleasure of editing his understated but always entertaining and incisive copy from Tokyo, including a wonderful cover story on the Japanese farm lobby Nokyo.
Later he followed me as regional editor in Hong Kong and was diplomatic in protecting us from some of the crazier inputs from the ideologues imposed into the magazine by Dow Jones after they began their ill-conceived makeover, including at one memorable re-education camp when we were all summoned to Hong Kong to be told how to write.
Then and in recent visits to Tokyo, I enjoyed his company and the way his reserved mien often broke up in a bray of sudden laughter when he saw a humorous side. I never got to hear Charles and Katsuko play their music. I wish I had. We will all miss him.

-HAMISH McDONALD, Sydney Morning Herald, FEER

Among FCCJ Regular members I must be one of few who neither worked with nor competed against Charles at any time in the many decades that we were both members of the FCCJ. I knew Charles only as a dinner companion at the Main Bar but I shall miss his company very much. Dining with Charles was a real pleasure. It meant a good hour of completely civilized conversation. The topics ranged from vegetarian cuisine to classical music. Talk of vegetarian dishes was usually short because the club offered very few choices. Charles invariably chose the grilled cheese sandwich. His knowledge of music, however, was vast. I had played the French horn but had given up long before. Charles kept on with the cello and played it very well. We rarely if ever discussed club politics.

Charles never raised his voice, rarely criticized another member, and if he disapproved of something it would be by means of a shift in the intonation of a word or perhaps a meaningful pause. Others may remember Charles as a first-rate journalist but for me he was a model of conviviality and camaraderie, the much talked-about but rarely achieved goals of our Club. I shall miss him very much.

-ANDREW HORVAT, Associated Press, Southam News, Los Angeles Times,
The Independent, American Public Radio; Club President 1988-89


One of my first tasks on taking up my new job in JAL's public relations department in the autumn of 1974 was to write a speech for my boss, Tonao Senda, on the future of transpacific trade, which he was to deliver at a conference in Vancouver.

Clueless, I sought the help of Charles Smith, who happily spent time giving me a thorough briefing from which I was able to put together a fairly respectable text. For the next 44 years he continued to be the same friendly, helpful mentor - always ready to spare time to give a helping hand or an opinion.

-GEOFFREY TUDOR, Former International PR director, Japan Airlines


Published in: June 2018

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