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Number 1 Shimbun

Michio Hayashi, Yomiuri Research Institute



by Gavin Blair


“I felt like I was carrying a copy of a universe in miniature,” says Michio Hayashi of the newspapers he delivered on weekends for eight years to save money to travel abroad. As well as allowing him to go overseas after university, delivering 300 copies of the “priceless collection of information from all corners of the world” also sparked his desire to become a foreign correspondent. 

At university in the mid-1980s, he studied news items from around the world, many about the Cold War, with a professor and a group of friends. Following graduation, he studied English in London for three months before joining the Yomiuri Shimbun in 1987. He spent his first four years reporting on local news in Hamamatsu in Shizuoka, “while the Berlin Wall was coming down.” 

During a stint back in Tokyo doing page layout in the evening, he attended French language school in the daytime. “Back then, wannabe foreign correspondents had to learn at least two languages,” says Hayashi, who laments the fact that requirements these days are less stringent. A chance encounter in the school’s smoking room led to his first overseas posting, a temporary, but life-changing, assignment to Afghanistan as the Mujahideen forces were taking over from the Soviet-backed regime. 

Next was a three-and-a half-year posting to the New Delhi bureau, from where he covered seven other South Asian countries, including frequent trips to Afghanistan to cover the ongoing civil war. There he was robbed at gunpoint, came under rocket fire more than once, witnessed limbs being blown off and had a bullet come through the roof of his taxi – incidents he says, “I never told my mother about.” The poverty in Afghanistan and India also had a profound effect on him, driving home the fortune of being born in a rich country.


WHILE IN SOUTH ASIA, a one-on-one interview with then Pakistani leader Benazir Bhutto produced her first public declaration that her country would respond in kind to Indian nuclear tests. The most shocking story he reported on was the systematic infanticide of female new-borns in Bihar, India, carried out because the dowries necessary for daughters were said to bankrupt families.

Time back in Japan covering the lead up to and the events of the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics was followed by an invitation to the US by the State Department, which preceded an assignment to Washington. Expecting to write mostly on politics and economics, he found himself covering the events of 9/11 and the subsequent seismic shifts in America, which he points to as a factor that eventually led to the Trump presidency. “As a Pentagon reporter, I rushed to see the burned part of the building. . . . Standing on a highway in front of the gaping hole, I wept for a while. I did not know why,” he recalls. 

Something else from that day that left a lasting impression on Hayashi was the story of Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage sending his Pentagon staff home before he took part in a sweep of the building with sniffer dogs. Despite the heroism seen on that day, Hayashi believes it was the catalyst for the transformation of America from a “very generous country” to “deeply worried, suspicious, angry” though also “united.” 

Hayashi filed around a thousand articles from America in the year after the Twin Towers came down and remembers the “surreal feeling” of writing the first one after that not related to terrorism or national security.


HE RETURNED TO JAPAN in 2002 to cover politics, including the prime minister’s office, briefly, the foreign ministry and the then defense agency. Reporting on the base controversies in Okinawa was something of a natural progression given his knowledge of US military issues, he says. After a stretch as an assistant editor on the international desk in Tokyo, he was again posted abroad, this time to Brussels in 2006, from where he covered the EU, NATO and Benelux countries. 

The following year he was made Paris bureau chief, a post he held until returning to Tokyo as deputy editor of international news. In 2011, he took over running the Yomiuri’s operations in Europe as general bureau chief in London, from where he oversaw coverage of the London Olympics and Eurozone crises, including landing a one-on-one with then British Prime Minister David Cameron. 

Back in Japan in 2014, he wrote editorials on international issues before being appointed managing editor of The Japan News, the Yomiuri’s English edition, in 2016. Since 2018, Hayashi has been a senior research fellow at the Yomiuri Research Institute, where he writes long-form, in-depth pieces for the Yomiuri quarterly magazine, as well as some work for other media. 

Hayashi, reflecting back on his career, says, “I feel quite fortunate that my bosses allowed me to follow this path for nearly two decades – five overseas postings for about 15 years combined.”

Despite his accomplishments, Hayashi says he doesn’t consider himself “a true journalist,” a title he reserves for freelancers, award-winning reporters and editors in chief. Nevertheless, his only apparent regrets are having been posted overseas at the time of the Tokyo sarin gas attack, as well as the Kobe and Tohoku earthquakes. 

“I missed all these three major Heisei events,” he says, “so I really feel something is missing in me as a Japanese reporter.” ❶


Gavin Blair covers Japanese business, society and culture for publications in the US, Asia and Europe.

Published in: May 2019

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