Member Login

Member Login

Username
Password *

Number 1 Shimbun

Desfor Celebrates His First Hundred Years

 

 

 

desfor_1.jpgMax Desfor, veteran AP cameraman, Pulitzer Prize winner and former FCCJ president turned 100 on Nov. 8, and celebrated the next day with some 100 guests at the National Press Club in Washington D.C.

Desfor is one of two survivors of the 180 AP staffers who covered World War II, according to the news agency. He covered the Pacific theater, photographing the return to Saipan of the B-29 bomber Enola Gay after the Hiroshima A-bomb attack and the Sept. 2 1945 Japanese surrender on the U.S. battleship Missouri.

He won his Pulitzer in 1951 for photography with his Korean War pictures, notably the dramatic shot of refugees crawling across a bombed bridge. (On display in the Club’s 20F Interview Room.)

Desfor was based in Tokyo for many years and served as FCCJ President in the 1974-5 period. He retired from the agency in the ’70s and directed photography at U.S. News and World Report until 1980.

He became a newlywed for the second time when he married his long-time friend Shirley Belasco, 92, when he was 98.

Desfor has said there was no secret to his photography, just: “Shoot first and ask questions later.”

from New York Times Lens blog

 

Remembering Jeanne Sather

 

FORMER NEWSWEEK TOKYO BUREAU reporter and FCCJ member Jeanne Sather died of metastatic breast cancer in Seattle on Nov. 11, 2013. She was 58.

Jeanne was born in Tacoma, Washington, and raised in the lumber town of Hoquiam, where her father was a veterinarian. While majoring in Communications at Michigan State University she spent a year studying abroad in Kobe, the start of an enduring engagement with Japan. After earning her master’s degree in Japanese from Honolulu’s East-West Center and a master’s in journalism from the University of California-Berkeley, she moved back to Japan and worked as a reporter, editor and translator at NHK and the Asahi News Service in the early 1980s. In 1986 she joined Newsweek’s Tokyo Bureau and was a frequent presence at the FCCJ before moving back to the U.S. in 1989 to teach journalism at California State University, Chico. Returning to the Seattle area, she reported for Reuters, the Puget Sound Business Journal, and the Seattle Times. She had a regular column on MSN and was the first editor of the Seattle-based health website, OnHealth.com.

A single mother of two, Jeanne reinvented herself as a fierce advocate for cancer patient rights after being diagnosed with breast cancer in 1999 when her children were just 13 and 8 years old. She wrote “Jeanne’s Diary,” a frank week-by-week account of her first series of cancer treatments, for OnHealth, followed by “Running with Fear,” a first-person cover story for the Seattle Weekly which took a first place Society of Professional Journalists award in 2004. She wrote extensively for the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance website while advocating for patient rights at the state capital and lobbying pharmaceutical companies for improved patient access to cancer drug trials. She was frequently quoted in the press on cancer topics.

In 2006 Jeanne launched the groundbreaking cancer blog The Assertive Cancer Patient, www.assertivecancerpatient.com, which brought her dozens of friends, and thousands of readers, from around the world, most of them women like herself who were living with advanced cancers. She unflinchingly detailed the highs and lows of battling the disease and the health care system until her last days. Even in her final months, she always made time to counsel and encourage her friends and those in need.

Jeanne passed away peacefully at the Bailey-Boushay House hospice in Seattle, and is survived by her sons Akira and Robin. She will be sorely missed.

 

New Members: December

Abi_Sekimitsu.jpg

ABI SEKIMITSU rejoins the FCCJ as Managing Editor, Microsoft Applications, Media & Publishing, where she oversees the news strategy for all of Microsoft’s consumer media products in Japan. Previously she worked at Reuters News as General Manager, Southeast Asia & Pacific, based in Singapore. In her 25-year career at Reuters, Abi has worked in Hong Kong, Japan, U.S., UK, India and Singapore.
She is a native of Kobe, and holds a journalism degree from
Northwestern University in the U.S.

Takeshi_Fujitani.jpg

TAKESHI FUJITANI joined the Asahi Shimbun in 1987, after graduating from International Christian University in Tokyo. In 1992-93, he read a master’s degree at School of Oriental and African Studies in London. From 1997 to 2000, Fujitani was based in Rome, covering Mediterranean Europe and the Balkan region. He reported the civil war in Zaire, armed rebellion in Albania, and remained in Belgrade during NATO’s air strike against Serbia in the Kosovo crisis. As a Jakarta correspondent, he covered the aftermath of tsunami and earthquakes and bombing attacks by radical Islamic groups, as well as the peace process in Aceh. In 2008, Fujitani, then Deputy Foreign Editor, was assigned as an editor-in-charge for an African special issue, featuring Bono and Bob Geldof as guest editors. He was the Bangkok-based Asia Editor for four years before assuming the post of Senior Digital Producer last May.

REINSTATEMENT (REGULAR MEMBERS)
Abi Sekimitsu, Microsoft Japan
Takeshi Fujitani, The Asahi Shimbun

ASSOCIATE MEMBERS
Brendan O'Sullivan, O’Sullivan Partners K. K.
Katsunari Yoshida, Denkishizai Co., Ltd.
Kenji Arakawa, Yamaha Corporation
Hajime Murozaki, Sales on Demand Corporation
Kazuyoshi Suzuki, Medical Corp., Shouhakukai

REINSTATEMENT (ASSOCIATE MEMBERS)
Satoshi Shiraishi
Takao Ito, Mitsubishi Ore Transport Co., Ltd.

Untold Story in Innovation Award -- Win Cash for Coverage

 

The Japan Society of Northern California, in cooperation with the U.S.-Asia Technology Management Center of Stanford University hosts the Japan-U.S. Innovation Awards Program. A category that may be of interest to FCCJ journalists is the “Untold Story in Innovation Awards,” in which the winner will receive a prize of U.S.$3,000 (Gold) at the awards ceremony at Stanford University, California in the summer of 2014. There is also a prize of U.S.$1,000 (Silver) for the runner up.

The program invites independent writers and journalists to submit a pitch proposal in English of an unpublished instance of a successful innovation within a large and already established Japanese company or a foreign company that does business in Japan. On the basis of their pitch applications, finalists will be selected to write up their 1,000-word article for judging. Those interested in writing, please contact Dr. Richard Dasher at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit www.usjinnovate.org/untold-story-award-selection-process. The deadline for the pitch proposal is Jan. 13, 2014.

In 2013, the Gold Award winner was presented to Steve Ross, anchor/reporter for the Orient News Network and a visiting member of the FCCJ. Sandra Katzman, an Asia-Pacific Defense Forum journalist, received the Silver Award.

 

FCCJ Exhibition: A Global Eye for the Irony of Joy

 

collblanco_matsuri_14v2.jpg

WHEN HE DIED AT AGE 39 IN SEPTEMBER, DAVID COLL Blanco, the talented photographer from Barcelona, left behind many friends from a decade in Japan. David also left behind a body of work worth celebrating: a portfolio remarkable for its warm eye for the joy to be found, ironically, in the most unlikely places.

From Dec. 7 thru Jan. 10, a selection of images from David’s years in Japan (2001-2011), and his explorations of Europe, Asia and the Americas, will be on display in the FCCJ Main Bar. The Club’s Masukomi sushi bar will feature images from Onjuku, the Chiba fishing port where he spent his final three years in Japan, living with his wife Mimi and infant daughter Maia (who is now five).

Organized and curated by his friends, with generous support from the Spanish Embassy, Desigual and Due Due, this exhibition is a celebration of warmth and light in the darkest month of the year. At the end of its run, the images will be available for interested collectors, with proceeds going to Maia.

 

 

 

The Abe Administration's Retreat from Transparency

 

Carsten Germis reports on the present
LDP government's step back from
the policies of its more accessible DPJ predecessor

 

M

uch is being written these days about the planned state secrets law that has been introduced to the Diet by the Shinzo Abe administration. Rarely has a bill faced so much public skepticism. And rightly so: the bill does not specify what would become a state secret, and the threat seems quite real that freedom of information and freedom of speech might be curtailed under its auspices.

The Japanese government bureaucracy has a long history of attempting to conceal unpleasant information. One wonders what might happen in the future when a journalist uses information he’s gathered about a new problem at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, or new data regarding the radioactive levels in food products. The vagueness of the bill’s wording allows the executive too much power to decide what is a secret and what is not.

Japanese bureaucrats do not need more power to hide unpleasant news. Indeed, what is badly needed in this country is quite the opposite: more public scrutiny of government policy.

Through my daily activities as a correspondent, my doubts regarding the intentions of the Abe government in dealing with foreign journalists have been growing. There is indeed much talk about transparency and openness, but the practice, at least in my experience, is quite the opposite – and I do not believe that the problem relates merely to language skills.

 

What is badly needed in this country
is quite the opposite:
more public scrutiny of government policy.

 

Those who participate in press tours organized by the Foreign Press Center Japan know that there are basically two large groups of foreign correspondents in Japan: those from primarily non-Asian countries who are directed to the English-language channels on their headsets and those, mainly from China and Korea, who speak Japanese so fluently that they need no special assistance. Both groups have their problems with access to information under the Abe administration.

English, as the global language, makes it possible to obtain nearly every kind of information in Japan necessary for good reporting. Those looking for English-speaking sources can find them – even if it sometimes takes a little longer in Japan than in other countries. But since Abe came to power many of those sources seem to have become more careful in what they will reveal.

My experience in Japan began during the administration of the Democratic Party of Japan. All three administrations –Hatoyama, Kan, Noda – all tried to explain their policies, and their officials could be often heard saying things like, “We know we have to do more and become better.”

Foreign journalists were invited by Deputy Prime Minister Katsuya Okada, for example, to exchange views. There were weekly meetings in the Kantei with officials where current issues were discussed – more or less openly. There was much criticism of the government’s stance in various matters, but the officials tried to make their positions understood to the correspondents.

Such an effort is no longer visible under the Abe administration. Despite Abe’s use of Facebook, there is no evidence of openness. The old “cartels of the mind” have instead become stronger. Finance Minister Taro Aso, for example, has never tried to talk to foreign journalists or to provide a response to questions about the massive Japanese government debt. In fact, there is a long list of issues that foreign journalists want to hear Japanese government officials address: energy policy, the risks of Abenomics, constitutional revision, opportunities for the younger generation, the depopulation of the regions. But the willingness of the government representatives to talk with the foreign press has been almost zero.


This government is secretive
not only with the foreign press, but also
with its own citizens.

 

In the four years I have been reporting here, I have put in approximately 30 to 40 interview requests to the government. For all that effort, I have received only one response, from former Minister of State for Administrative Reform Renho under the DPJ regime.

This closed shop mentality of the Japanese political elite does not really affect the freedom of reporting, because there are plenty of other sources from which to gather information and make credible reports for our foreign audience. But it reveals how little the Japanese government, especially the current Abe administration, understands that – in a democracy – policy must be explained to the public.

It does not seem funny any longer when colleagues tell me that the ruling Liberal Democratic Party has no one at all in its press affairs department who will speak English or provide information. It reflects their lack of understanding about how important it is in a globalized world to show openness and goodwill. But, indeed, this government is secretive not only with the foreign press, but also with its own citizens.

The DPJ government made a degree of effort to field critical questions and to engage in dialogue, but the current regime has clearly retreated from that standard. No doubt this is one reason why the outcry over the planned state secrets law has been so loud and determined.

Carsten Germis is the East Asia Correspondent for Frankfurter Allgemeine (Germany) and a member of the FCCJ Freedom of the Press Committee.

 

 

Ai Weiwei Film is Anything But Sorry

 

download-1.jpg

Julian Ryall talks to director Alison Klayman
about her award-winning documentary:
Ai Weiwiei: Never Sorry

 

Before arriving in China in 2006, Alison Klayman, like most people around the world, was only vaguely aware of the artist Ai Weiwei and his works. But her timing was fortuitous. A request from a friend to shoot video of Ai in 2008 coincided with his emergence as a fearless political dissident, as well as an internationally acclaimed artist.

The Philadelphia-born film-maker struck up a close friendship with Ai, now 57, shortly after the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. This was the moment when the artist/acitivist crossed the line from favored celebrity to hunted dissident by posting photos and comments on his blog criticizing corrupt officials behind the shoddy construction of schools that collapsed killing more than 5,000 children.

Klayman, 29, has had her lens trained on Ai ever since, and Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry is the documentary result. Her directorial debut has been described as “One of the most engagingly powerful movies of the year,” “stirring,” “important” and “riveting.” It won the Special Jury Prize at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.

I had already been in China for two years when I first met Weiwei, so I did not go there specifically looking for him or not even necessarily knowing who he was,” Klayman said in an interview shortly after her documentary was screened at the FCCJ on Nov. 12, an event also attended by producer Colin Jones.

 

“He liked to joke around
and that
was very appealing,
but he can also be intimidating,”

 

I met him in 2008 through my room-mate, who was curating an exhibition of some of the 10,000 photos he took while he was in New York,” said Klayman, who plans to live in Tokyo for the next year. “My friend said it would be great if they had a video to accompany the exhibition, so we just struck an agreement that I would make the video but I would not be paid.

Now I know how lucky I was, not just to meet him but also that he came to know me through me pointing a camera at him all the time,” she added. “From the very beginning, we hit it off.”

Klayman said Ai cut a “very regal figure” and could go from being very serious to hilarious in a heartbeat.

“He liked to joke around and that was very appealing, but he can also be intimidating,” she said. “If there is something that he does not like, he will tell you. He is also willing to dive into political issues – and I’d never heard such strong and directly critical comments from a Chinese citizen before.”

Curious whether speaking out against the government would get him into trouble, Klayman asked Ai why he had not already been arrested.He told me that in 2008 that a police officer had told him that if they wanted to get him, they could,” she said. “It would not have to be a political reason, it could be any reason they wanted. And in the end, he was detained for economic reasons.”

Initially, the monitoring of Ai’s activities was negligible, but Chinese authorities began to ramp it up as he spoke
out about the Sichuan earthquake scandal. Undeterred by a severe beating by the police in Chengdu in Aug. 2009, he was briefly placed under house arrest in Shanghai in November 2010 while the authorities tore down his newly built studio in Shanghai.

One month previously, he had been frustrated in efforts to leave China as the government feared he might attend the ceremony at which fellow dissident Liu Xiaobo was to be presented with the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize.

Meanwhile, Ai blogged and Tweeted a constant stream of scathing social commentary and critiques of Chinese government policies.

When I first met him, there were no surveillance cameras pointed at his front door, but when that happened he knew that he was making a choice, that he was crossing a line,” Klayman said. His life was no longer his own.

 

“It’s hard to remain famous
when you can’t reach people or
when it is forbidden
for others to write about you.”

 

But it was ridiculous to put cameras on his front door because he was Tweeting all the time,” she said.

Even though the atmosphere was intimidating, Klayman said that as a foreign film-maker, she rarely felt personally at risk.

In the film, we went to a police station to complain when he had been assaulted by the police and that was a little intimidating, but I was an accredited foreign journalist and I thought the most likely the worst that could happen was that I would be kicked out,” she said. “But Weiwei and other Chinese citizens were taking a much bigger risk.”

Klayman went to New York to edit the film in late 2010, with the opening of his exhibition at the Tate Modern in October 2010 acting as a bookend to the movie.

Ai was arrested on April 3, 2011, and held for 81 days before being suddenly released. The incarceration made him aware that he had a weak spot that the Chinese authorities could press at any time, Klayman believes, but she said his fundamental principles remain unchanged.

He is passionate about some universal themes; free expression, transparency, the rule of law, respect for the voice of the individual and the individual’s life,” she said. “Those have not wavered and his core beliefs have not changed. After he was released, he told me that he would have to find a new way to play the game.”

Currently, the Chinese authorities refuse to return Ai’s passport.

For an internationally renowned artist, that’s a big restriction,” said Klayman, adding that he has effectively been sidelined within China as well.

He’s not covered in the domestic press and his domestic social media presence was shut down in 2009, so it has been impossible for him to maintain a blogging presence,” she said. “It’s hard to remain famous when you can’t reach people or when it is forbidden for others to write about you.”

Despite the handicaps, Weiwei is attempting to reach a new audience through his latest project, heavy metal music, even though he himself admits he has a bad singing voice.

I think he will always believe in the possible – and if you do that, you will always remain an optimist,” Klayman believes.

 

Combatting the Web of Hate

 

Nov_6_13_PL_Rabbi_Abraham_Cooper036.jpg

Julian Ryall covers the recent press conference
by Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

 

The amount of religious and racial hate being preached on the internet is rising rapidly, with some social media companies guilty of failing to shut down extremist groups that promote Nazi ideology or call for the extermination of Christians, Muslims or Jews.

And as the recent protests against Korean residents of this country demonstrate, Japan is not immune from similar forms of race-based hatred.

According to Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, there are at present some 20,000 websites and social media links that threaten other religious or ethnic groups. They range from neo-Nazi groups in America to the School of Contemporary Online Jihad and Baidu forums in China that are a platform for taunts and warnings to Japan. That figure is up from 15,000 sites just a couple of years ago.

The internet does not cause hatred, but it reflects what is going on in society and multiplies the messages that are being sent, making it appear that there is far broader support for these attitudes than really exists,” said Rabbi Cooper, who gave an overview of the Wiesenthal Center’s 15th annual report, titled “Digital Terrorism & Hate Project” at the FCCJ on Nov. 6.

 

The internet plays host to groups
spouting hatred and terror,
but some social network companies do better than
others at halting their spread

 

 As if to underline Rabbi Cooper’s point, an Indonesian man went on trial the same day in Jakarta, accused of plotting with other extremists to blow up the embassy of Myanmar in the Indonesian capital to avenge the deaths of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. Police said Separiano, 29, learned how to build a crude bomb on the internet and linked up with like-minded individuals via Facebook.

In spite of that case, Rabbi Cooper said that Facebook performs the best in terms of dealing with hate speech on its pages, with two dedicated teams – one in Silicon Valley in California and the second in Ireland – tasked with monitoring pages added to the site and removing any that fail to meet their standards on hate speech.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center does not always agree with Facebook’s policies, however. The company considers Holocaust deniers’ attitudes to be free speech and therefore protected. If the government of Iran, on the other hand, denied the Holocaust had happened as part of its propaganda against Israel and the Jews, that would be considered hate speech and removed.

While Facebook is performing reasonably well, Rabbi Cooper said Twitter gets an F grade. Just hours before the social networking giant launched its IPO on the New York Stock Exchange, driving the value of the seven-year-old company to $25 billion, Rabbi Cooper said Twitter “has done nothing” to stop links to hate sites.

“Increasingly, terrorist organizations are using Twitter as part of their marketing strategy and for command and control,” he said, pointing out that live Tweets had gone out shortly before extremists attacked the Westgate shopping center in Kenya in September urging Muslims not to go to the mall.

Twitter has a responsibility to address these issues as terrorism is not an issue of free speech; it is an existential threat,” Rabbi Cooper said. “They have an obligation, especially as a for-profit company, to be a good corporate citizen and they should be doing everything they can to degrade or block these messages.”

The annual report gives YouTube a C grade for its performance over the last year, with Rabbi Cooper saying the terms of usage are very good, but the commitment to carrying out those terms is “wobbly.” That permits videos to be uploaded providing, for example, step-by-step explanations of how to construct a bomb in your own kitchen or how to create home-made napalm.

 

Instead of praising the achievements
of Martin Luther King,
the mlking.org website is run by white supremacists

 

The center’s on-line presentation demonstrates just what is available in cyberspace, as well as how easy it is to locate. Sites exist extolling the virtues of Nazi official Reinhard Heydrich, one of the main architects of the Holocaust, while a posting on a Baidu forum states, “The Jew is the second-lowest ethnic group. The Japanese are the first.”

Instead of praising the achievements of Martin Luther King, the mlking.org website is run by white supremacists and promotes “The Truth About King” and “Black Invention Myths.” Sites in the Philippines call on young people there to join the extremist Moro National Liberation Front; others promote Nazi-themed sports bars in Korea or Thailand. Yet more are operated by Al-Qaeda and teach the would-be suicide bomber how to go about his or her gruesome task.

Halting the proliferation of such attitudes is extremely difficult, Rabbi Cooper said, but if a hate message can be taken down – even for a short time – then he considers it a success. “Our approach with these hate sites is to go to the company that provides the platform and show them their own terms of usage,” he said. And as those contracts invariably contain obligations on language, threats or intolerance in any form, then posters can be excluded and pages removed.

Only a small section of these platforms are being systematically abused, but the only way to make a dent in this is not through new laws, but through companies, activists, parents and teachers standing up,” he said.

Julian Ryall is the Japan correspondent for the Daily Telegraph.

 

The 2013 Tokyo Motor [Side?]show

MOTORSHOW101.jpg

The wraps come off Honda's S660 concept car

 

Peter Lyon reports that, while the Tokyo Motor Show
may no longer be a top-tier global affair,
this year it got back on track.

 

For decades, the Tokyo Motor Show was one of the world’s major car shows, ranked as a Tier-1 event alongside the Detroit, Geneva and Frankfurt shows. Held every second autumn, it was adored by the world’s motoring media as a leader in environmental technologies and a place where unique, magical concept cars made their debut.

In the wake of the global financial crisis of 2008, however, Tokyo’s global importance waned and it dropped to Tier-2, forcing a move in 2009 from Chiba’s Makuhari Messe to the more compact Tokyo Big Sight venue on the capital’s waterfront. That pretty much coincided with an en masse withdrawal from the Tokyo show by Detroit’s Big Three automakers (which we’ll get to later), and the emergence of China’s car market as the world’s largest, which heightened the global importance of motor shows in Shanghai and Beijing.

In 2011, any hope Tokyo had of reasserting its global stature was overwhelmed by the Tohoku disasters and subsequent power cuts. There was a definite pall over the proceedings.

 

For many foreign journalists, though,
coverage of the Tokyo show started several days
before the Nov. 20 presser marathon.
 

 

That made this year’s show critical. But the organizers – JAMA, the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association – were hit with a double punch due to the unfortunate triple booking of the Tokyo Motor Show right on top of the Los Angeles Auto Show and China’s Guangzhou Motor Show. In today’s hyper-connected world, you have to wonder how a balls-up like this could happen.

Even with its back against the wall, though, Tokyo has managed to bounce back and pull off a first-class effort, reminiscent of its days as a Tier-1 show. With 40-odd world premieres, including some crucial debuts from major European carmakers, the Tokyo show was surprisingly well attended by international media. Even the general public were getting into the act, with over 135,000 visitors converging on Tokyo Big Sight on the opening Saturday. That’s more than 15 percent up on last year’s figure.

Before the hoi-polloi are allowed in, though, every motor show around the world gives the automotive media a relatively uncrowded exclusive look at the exhibits. “Press Day” features 15-minute media briefings by the CEOs (or other executives) of all the major automakers, usually capped by a dramatic unveiling. For many foreign journalists, though, coverage of the Tokyo show started several days before the Nov. 20 presser marathon.

Honda invited more than 250 journalists from around the world, flying them in business class and shacking them up at top hotels like the Imperial and the Peninsula (all of which is standard for those who cover cars). Arriving on the Sunday, three days prior to Press Day, journalists were given a full-day’s test drive session of the company’s latest safety technologies and near-to-production vehicles at Honda’s Tochigi Proving Ground.

 

Several influential journalists found
souped-up GT-Rs blasting around the city’s expressways
in a kind of real-world Fast and Furious

 

Aiming to celebrate the debut of its FCV concept and Lexus RC coupe, Toyota also invited over 260 journalists and offered them test drives of the fuel-cell FCV at a track near the Toyota headquarters while Lexus invitees were given several high-speed laps of Fuji Speedway in sports cars like the LFA and IS-F.

Meanwhile, Nissan invited 100 select foreign journalists who all stayed at the Conrad Hotel. Why 100? you may ask. That’s the maximum number of journalists that could test drive the GT-R Nismo in four days of exclusive track access at Chiba’s Sodegaura Raceway – just 25 slots per day. Nissan’s fastest-ever sports car, the GT-R Nismo was unveiled by CEO Carlos Ghosn on Press Day, along with the electric-powered BladeGlider concept.

In addition to attending lavish parties, some visiting scribes used their free time to ferret-out unique stories. Invited by Nissan Germany, several influential journalists went out into the cool Tokyo night air and found souped-up GT-Rs blasting around the city’s expressways in a kind of real-world “Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift.”

Wanting something out of the ordinary, a colleague from Italy followed up on a rumor she had heard about spiritual cleansers, guys who rid your new or used car – and you too! – of unwanted spirits and gremlins that may have caused or will cause accidents or mishaps. As she found out, the Japanese might not be a very religious people, but they certainly are superstitious.

One of the questions on everyone’s lips was, “Why aren’t the Americans here? Is this a boycott?” The answer is that America’s Big Three (GM, Ford and Chrysler) finally stopped trying to save face and owned up to the reality that with a combined Japan market share of less than one percent, none of them could justify spending the millions of dollars required for a global motor show stand. For example,
GM Japan, which imports Chevrolet and
Cadillac models, only sells around 1,200 a
year. That’s just 100 cars a month. In Japan,
the Honda Fit sells 100 cars every 3 hours.
And with design, construction and staff
costs of an average motor show stand topping
$1 million, it is pretty easy to see why
the Americans were not here.

The Koreans and Chinese 
were not here either. But that’s another story.

Will Tokyo ever recapture its status as a Tier-1 global motor show? Many foreign colleagues say no. Apart from the importance the Chinese shows now have in Asia, one sure measure of global significance is the number of automaker CEOs who turn up. With no American bosses in sight at Big Sight, Renault-Nissan’s Carlos Ghosn was the only non-Japanese heavy hitter on the scene. So by that measure it seems Tokyo is destined to remain for the foreseeable future a strong Tier-2 show at best.

Peter Lyon was based in Tokyo for 25 years. He contributes new-car test-drive reports, columns, car industry news and videos to major car magazines and websites in seven countries.

 

 

Reporting Japan's Changing Sexual Landscape

Is the tuned-in global reader
more understanding of nuance than the media?
A story gone viral
makes Abigail Haworth wonder.

 

“I don’t really go along with this story I’m afraid. . . In fact I didn’t bother to read it.” This was a comment from someone named Frank under my Oct. 20 article on The Guardian website about young Japanese rejecting conventional relationships. Frank said he had recently lived in the Shonan area of Japan. He was so incensed by the article’s headline, “Why Have Young People in Japan Stopped Having Sex?” that he declared the whole piece to be “utter garbage!”

That, of course, is Frank’s prerogative. In these days of instantaneous online commentary anyone can express an opinion about a piece of journalism without having read it – and many, as we all know, do. But a huge number of people did read the article (which appeared in print in the Guardian Media Group’s Sunday publication, The Observer Magazine).

To date, it has had 90,694 shares on Facebook, it has been Tweeted 8,170 times and, according to the newspaper’s latest figures, it has been viewed close to five million times. It also prompted numerous spin-off articles, TV panel discussions and a lovingly crafted but unprintable piece of poetry from a reader in Los Angeles.

So why did it take off? The provocative headline and colorful ex-dominatrix who opened the piece no doubt played a role. Yet I don’t think prurient interest alone explains it. One would have to have a staggeringly low opinion of the readers who plowed through almost 3,000 words to believe that.

 

Readers from diverse countries drew parallels
with their societies:
a growing tendency to delay marriage,
greater solo living in cities,
the difficulty of juggling work and children.

 

Putting it down to prurience is also out of step with how the country is viewed overseas today, particularly by people under 40. In much of the world, the vast reach of Japanese cultural exports like anime, fashion and technology has in turn inspired a desire for deeper knowledge about the society. Smart young people are far more clued in and comfortable with all things Japanese than previous generations. (A revealing aspect of the recent eyeball-licking story – expertly exposed as a hoax in this magazine – was that it demonstrated how far-fetched and ridiculous “weird Japan” stories have to be these days to spark a reaction.)

This sense of easy familiarity came through in the comments on social media about my article. Many people in their 20s and 30s in Britain and the U.S. related to Japanese singletons without a second thought, commenting on how precarious job prospects, financial dependence on parents and insecurity about the future were affecting their own sex lives and personal relationships.

Readers from countries as diverse as Brazil and Nigeria drew parallels with their societies, too: a growing tendency to delay marriage, greater solo living in cities, the difficulty of juggling work and children. A single woman in India talked about her desire for a career and her fears it was incompatible with traditional expectations. A retired Danish woman talked about how Denmark was adjusting to a population in which over 50 percent of urban dwellers were single.

 

All that changed for the worse
when other big media outlets picked up on the story
and started recycling it as faux “news.” 
 

 

In the end, it’s hard to say how much Japan does offer a window on the global future – it’s complicated, and there are few straight parallels with other countries. But the article seemed to resonate so widely due to the perception that Japan is dealing with the human and emotional consequences of issues like demographic change and technological advancement before anyone else. “Japan is the future,” said one commenter. “Japan has got it all figured out,” said another. “A nation too sane for its own good,” said another.

All of this is not to say there weren’t some responses along the usual “Japan is weird” lines. Of course there were. As a friend in Tokyo noted, that’s par for the course even if the subject is ikebana. But interestingly, one of the least-discussed subjects in those first few days was lack of sex, despite its prominent billing in the headline. If the subject did come up, it was talked about as a normal or understandable response to circumstance.

All that changed for the worse when other big media outlets picked up on the story and started recycling it as faux “news.” The conversation shifted as their spin-offs took the usual sensational course of twisting facts and ignoring context. Suddenly, an epidemic of indigenous “sexlessness” was being blamed for falling births and Japan was allegedly hurtling towards extinction – exactly the kind of groundless scaremongering my story dismissed. These distortions, in turn, were then picked up by indignant Japan watchers who used them to criticize the “viral” Guardian story without appearing to read it.

Whatever happens,
Japan is increasingly unlikely to
be alone
in suffering the indignity of media hyperbole.


It was fascinating to watch this media cycle play out.  But it wasn’t that fruitful. The topic of sex and relationships in Japan is hugely complex, with many different sides and apparent contradictions that are all worth exploring. Media sensationalism doesn’t help the debate. And neither do kneejerk cries of “cultural stereotyping” at genuine attempts to explain sexuality in Japan. Most readers, I believe, can discern what is hyped or silly, and those who can’t or won’t are not worth bothering with. (See ikebana, above).

Sex is fun, and in my opinion writing about sex should be fun whenever possible, too. But it’s a fine line to get it right when it comes to Japan. I suspect that’s only going to get harder as technology develops and ever-new forms of virtual interaction become commonplace.

Whatever happens, Japan is increasingly unlikely to be alone in suffering the indignity of media hyperbole. A few days ago, the Guardian ran a story about new research showing that British people are having 20 percent less sex than they did 10 years ago. Reasons cited included more people living alone, economic recession and addiction to technology. The headline made the one on my article seem subtle. It asked: “Are Smartphones Causing a Bonking Crisis?”

Abigail Haworth is senior international editor at Marie Claire U.S., and a contributor to the U.K.’s Observer Magazine. She has won numerous awards, including an Overseas Press Club of America award, and was nominated for the 2013 Orwell Journalism Prize. She lived in Tokyo for 10 years, and is now based in Bangkok.

 

 

Profile: Khaldon Azhari, Pan Orient News

 

khaldon1.jpg

Monzurul Huq contributes to our series of Club Member profiles.

 

Syrian Khaldon Azhari’s early years were the essence of the Dickensian term, “the best of times and the worst of times.” He was born to an intellectual family in what is now the war-ravaged town of Homs. His father, Mohammad Azhari, was a journalist and owner of a daily newspaper, in a world where reality could turn upside down anytime with the change of the regime. And change was frequent: only short intervals separated coups d’état-toppling governments. Managing the newspaper meant his father always had to walk a tightrope, unaware of what the future was holding for the country and for his family. In 1968, he lost ownership of the newspaper when it, and all the other dailies, was seized by the government.

However, this shocking twist of fate did not deter young Khaldon from cherishing the dream of becoming a journalist like his father. He saw the determination that the vocation demands as well as the high level of satisfaction from conveying a message to one’s readership. His family, on the other hand, was firmly against him choosing the vocation that proved so harsh to his father. Instead, Khaldon was sent to pursue higher studies in petrochemical engineering, which his mother thought would ensure a steady source of income without the mental agony that his father had to endure. But after getting a university degree in petrochemical engineering, he remembered the joy of writing.

 

Over the course of time,
I learned the art of walking through the
minefield of news making.”
 

 

When I was in elementary school, my father helped me write essays on different subjects, which silently planted in my mind the seeds of love for playing with words. Then I started to help my father write news fillers and other items for his paper.” During those early years he particularly enjoyed compiling Arabic crosswords. Through the popularity of the crossword section, his name became known to newspapers subscribers in his hometown.

My father was a pan-Arab nationalist and suffered through the years of regime-imposed strict censorship. He was in and out of prison, but never gave up the profession, despite the lack of material reward. Over the course of time, I learned the art of walking through the minefield of news making.” Though it was not easy to be a journalist in a country where everything was controlled and supervised, he was soon writing a regular column in the university student newspaper and also started taking photos. This drew the attention of the editor of his hometown’s main newspaper, who approached him to write for the daily.

It started well, but after the editor-in-chief was replaced, the new editor did not like my writing and transferred me from the political division to the city life section. Although my articles were popular, the new boss fired me from the newspaper.” Not everyone in the family was unhappy with the outcome. His father by then had already passed away; his mother held a party to celebrate the return of her son from the uncertain world of journalism.

 

My father was a pan-Arab nationalist
and suffered through the years
of regime-imposed strict censorship." 

 

With that sad episode, Khaldon came to the bitter realization that his country was not a place for a journalistic career. He briefly went back to university, but “the future was turning bleak and I wanted to see the world.” After returning from a visit to Italy, he found a job in the ministry of tourism. After working in Lebanon, and traveling to the U.S., a twist of fate brought him to Japan, where he found himself once again in the world of journalism. He has stayed in the country since.

My earlier encounters with journalism still fascinated me so I was always looking for an opening to return. In Japan I got an offer to work as a journalist in the press section of the embassy of Oman. It was in the early 1990s, a time when Japan was becoming more interested in the Arab world.”

He left the embassy in 1998 to get more involved in mainstream journalism, realizing that he could work independently to feed the Arab press with news and analytical pieces on Japan. He established the K A News company and began providing news services to a number of Arab countries. In 2006 he established Pan Orient News in the U.S. with a branch office in Tokyo. Currently he covers Japan for Petra News Agency of Jordan and also feeds UAE News Agency with Japan content. In addition, he writes for the Qatar-based daily Al Sharq, and works as a commentator for Radio Cairo and Saudi TV. His media outlets cover a number of Arab countries, but his homeland is absent. “I’m a Syrian journalist in Japan, but I don’t report for any Syrian media. It’s because the Syrian media is part of the government and you need to belong in order to report.”

As a journalist with such diverse experiences and a life marked by attacks on press freedoms, Khaldon has a clear view of his country’s present crisis and what could have prevented it. “In Syria there was a need for reform, a need for freedom of expression and diversified newspaper ownership. If we had only had a free media, we would definitely have had a better chance of avoiding the disaster that we are embroiled in now.”

Monzurul Huq represents the largest-circulation Bangladeshi national daily, Prothom Alo. He was FCCJ president from 2009 to 2010.

 

 

Tepco vs. the Foreign Press

 

NUCLEAR101.jpg

Members of the media wearing protective clothing study the spent-fuel pool inside Reactor 4.

 

As the third anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear accident approaches
and the fuel rod removal begins, Justin McCurry reports
that journalists are mixed about Tepco’s handling of the press

 

Alitany of technical mishaps aside, poor management of its relations with the foreign media was for a long time a recurring theme in Tokyo Electric Power’s handling of the crisis at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. The sense that the facility’s hapless operator was covering up as much as it was revealing about the true nature of the March 2011 triple meltdown and its aftermath led Reporters Without Borders to accuse Japan of obstructing independent coverage of the accident in its 2013 global media report.

Having been closely involved in about half a dozen media visits to Fukushima Daiichi and, like many other Tokyo-based correspondents, a regular visitor to the exclusion zone around the plant over the past two years and 10 months, I found RWB’s criticism excessive.

It jarred with my experience of reporting on Fukushima, and that of many colleagues, and failed to explain the large body of fine reporting that has emerged from inside and outside the power plant, much of it from the same independent journalists the Japanese authorities were supposed to have thwarted so successfully.

That said, press tours of Fukushima Daiichi by members of the Foreign Press in Japan [FPIJ] – a network of accredited journalists working for overseas-based media organisations – prompted mixed reactions from among those covering Japan’s worst-ever nuclear accident.

It is clear from discussions with colleagues who have attended at least one of the tours that while Tepco deserves praise for responding to FPIJ pressure to organize tours for a significant number of journalists, it still has work to do in improving access and explaining, warts and all, the challenges it faces as it embarks on a long and costly decommissioning operation. 

I think Tepco’s instinct is still to stage manage as closely as it can,” says David McNeill, who writes for the Economist, the Independent and the Irish Times. “I always feel like I’m being rushed from site to site, that Tepco officials are uncomfortable under scrutiny and have no idea, or willingness, how to explain technical issues. They still don’t realize that it’s better to be open than try to keep the company line that everything is under control – which they’ve laughably tried to maintain since March 2011.”

Despite his reservations, McNeill acknowledges that the site visits present opportunities to write first-hand about key issues affecting the cleanup. “The fact that we’re on-site at all, seeing what’s going on at Daiichi with our own eyes, is priceless,” he said. “Tepco can’t control everything.”

 

A common complaint is Tepco’s
apparent reluctance
to explain the technological difficulties

 

A good example is the potentially risky removal of more than 1,300 spent fuel assemblies from the storage pool in Reactor No. 4. On a visit organized early last month, 20 FPIJ writers, photographers and broadcasters were given unprecedented access to the fuel pool, and the opportunity to quiz one of the engineers responsible for making it safe over the coming 12 months.

Joel Legendre-Koizumi, a correspondent for the French broadcaster RTL who has made multiple visits to the plant, said his coverage had benefited from greater access to information during the recent trip, and from better overall communication between journalists and officials.

As for the risks involved in the fuel removal, we all know what they are because of our own background research,” Legendre-Koizumi said, giving a cautious welcome to Tepco’s own take on the dangers.

Reporting on Fukushima has forced journalists with little or no scientific background to quickly acquaint themselves with the language of nuclear energy and radiation. Still, a common complaint is Tepco’s apparent reluctance to explain the technological difficulties the myriad tasks at Fukushima Daiichi entail. More often than not, procedures such as the removal of spent fuel from Reactor 4 or the construction of barriers to prevent leaks of contaminated water have been deemed worthy of only cursory explanation.

I found the overall level of technical explanation had, if anything, declined,” McNeill says of the November tour. Legendre-Koizumi echoed that sentiment. “More background briefing on the technology being used would have been much appreciated. Too often time is limited. Daiichi is one thing, but is just one part of the puzzle. Tepco still has a lot to explain.”

Mari Yamaguchi, a reporter for the Associated Press, says it is our job as journalists to challenge Tepco’s reluctance to shed more light on the technical challenges presented by the cleanup. “I don’t think we can expect Tepco to go out of their way to show us the risks, though it would be nice if they did,” Yamaguchi says. “But to be able to get any sense of the risks and problems, we have to know enough about the technical details and ask the right questions. It’s part of our job to do that.”

While arrangements have been made for pooled photographs and video footage, the ban on print reporters taking photographs, and restrictions on access to certain areas of the plant, angered some reporters.

Generally speaking, I did not find the trips particularly useful,” says Pio D’Emilia, a correspondent for the Italian broadcaster Sky TG24. “Lots of time was wasted on pro forma security issues and briefings.

Both from a pen journalist and TV reporter’s point of view, such visits should have been more focused on direct reporting. TV reporters should have been allowed more time to do their stand-ups, and in general, journalists should be treated better than sheep. Citing ‘safety and security’ reasons to make actual reporting almost impossible is not exactly the best for us, or for Tepco.”

 

Yamaguchi notes that Tepco
has adopted a more progressive attitude towards
female reporters visiting the plant

 

A notable absence from all of the trips has been any contact with ordinary workers at the site, with the exception of a handful of handpicked managers from contractors. “There is the deliberate attempt to prevent any contact between journalists and workers,” says D’Emilia. “This is a stupid approach, because all of us have already found a way to contact, meet, interview and even befriend many workers.”

As the third anniversary of the disaster approaches, there is a good chance that a large group of foreign reporters will again find themselves at the heart of the nuclear crisis. While Tepco appears to have accepted that granting access to FPIJ members is now non-negotiable, this is no time for complacency on our part.

We should stop thinking of these tours as privileges and more as a right,” says McNeill. “The onus is on Tepco to show accountability for all the money they’re using, and the chaos they’ve caused.”

Yamaguchi notes that Tepco has adopted a more progressive attitude towards female reporters visiting the plant; the prime minister’s office has tried, unsuccessfully, to ban them, citing a lack of changing facilities for women at the site.

But she called on the utility to make a similar commitment to establishing parity between Japanese and foreign reporters. “I get the impression that Tepco tends to make FPIJ tours simpler, and with access to fewer or different places than those for the Japanese media,” she says.

I’m not sure if this is because that’s what they think we are interested in, or if it’s due to the additional time needed for interpretation. Also, I’m not happy that our tours always come after those for Japanese journalists, so sometimes what we see is no longer really news.”

Tepco – take note.

Justin McCurry is Japan and Korea correspondent for the Guardian and the Observer. He contributes to the Christian Science Monitor and the Lancet medical journal, and reports on Japan and Korea for France 24 TV.

 

 

Shhh. The lights go out for whistleblowers and (possibly) journalists

 

bulb_only2.jpg

David McNeill asks, "Would reporting on Tepco's
incompetence be a crime if the nuclear accident had happened today?

 

I n April 2011, while Fukushima’s fires still smoldered, foreign journalists scrambled to find sources that could shed any light on what was happening. In an Iwaki City car park, I found a nervous maintenance worker on a rare R&R break from the Daiichi plant.

Among his bombshell claims was the allegation that the earthquake had damaged Reactor 1 before the tsunami knocked out the plant’s cooling system. Conditions onsite were Spartan and dangerous, he said. Workers were exhausted; nobody at the top seemed to know what they were doing.

Nearly three years later, with parliament set to pass a new state secrecy bill as No.1 Shimbun goes to press, foreign correspondents might ponder a sobering question: Would they find themselves on the wrong side of the law if they did the same thing today?

No, insists Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Since the bill was submitted to the Diet on Oct. 25, he has repeatedly denied the bill would gag the media or restrict the public’s right to know. There is a misunderstanding,” he told the Diet on Nov. 26, the day the Lower House passed the bill. “It is obvious that normal reporting activity of journalists must not be a subject for punishment under the bill.” 

 

Hundreds of Japanese academics
have signed a petition
demanding it be scrapped.


F

ew people outside the ruling bloc of the LDP and New Komeito, however, seem to believe him. The legislation has triggered protests from Human Rights Watch, the International Federation of Journalists, the Federation of Japanese Newspaper Unions, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations and the FCCJ. Hundreds of Japanese academics have signed a petition demanding it be scrapped.

As the bill made its way through the Diet, an expert for the UN Human Rights Council said it included “serious threats to whistleblowers and even journalists reporting on secrets.” “Transparency is a core requirement for democratic governance,” warned Frank La Rue, the special rapporteur on freedom of expression.

Mizuho Fukushima of the Social Democratic Party delivered her verdict at an FCCJ press conference on Nov. 14. “It represents a grave threat to journalism because it covers such a wide and vague range of secrets,” she said. Fukushima pointed out that the bill casts its net so wide it even includes a clause for “miscellaneous” secrets.

Inevitably, perhaps, debate on the new law has been viewed through the prism of the Fukushima crisis, which revealed disastrous collusion between bureaucrats and the nuclear industry. Critics say journalists attempting to expose such collusion today could fall foul of the new law, which creates three new categories of “special secrets:” diplomacy, counter-terrorism and counter-espionage, in addition to defense.

Even government supporters accept that the law hugely expands the bureaucratic state’s discretion to keep information under wraps. Until now, only the Defense Ministry could label information “state secrets.” The law gives that power to elite bureaucrats in every government agency and ministry. Breaching those secrets will be punishable by up to 10 years in prison and up to a ¥10 million fine.

An unofficial translation of the new law* cites a long list of information designated confidential, including management, planning or research documents by the Self Defense Forces, types or numbers of weapons, munitions and airplanes, specifications of weapons in development stages and air-based photography of defense facilities. The law binds all relevant public servants to secrecy even after they quit.

During Diet deliberations in November, Masako Mori, the minister in charge of the bill, admitted that security information on nuclear power plants could be designated secret because the information “might reach terrorists.” But who decides on such likelihoods? Bureaucrats, said Sohei Nihi, a Japanese Communist Party lawmaker who spoke at the Club alongside Fukushima.

 

 

The Fukushima accident showed
that when it counted,
the Japanese state acted against the people.

 

"One of the most dangerous aspects of this bill is that the average person will not even know what piece of information has been designated a state secret,” or who made it so, he told the FCCJ audience. He and Fukushima said that even lawmakers would not be safe from the law’s huge reach. “The bill is fundamentally flawed and must be scrapped,” he concluded.

Few of the bill’s opponents argue against Japan’s right to protect classified information. Some say Japan has long been Asia’s diplomatic leaky bucket. In The Economist magazine last month, Nobutaka Machimura, an ex-foreign minister who heads the LDP’s taskforce on the law, said America and other Japanese allies “complain that information entrusted to it is too often leaked.”

A

rticle 1 of the law states its purpose is to “prevent leakage of designated secrets . . . to guarantee the security of this state and its people.” But independent lawmaker Taro Yamamoto, who won a Diet seat on an anti-nuclear ticket last December, said the Fukushima accident showed that when it counted, the Japanese state acted against the people.

He reminded the FCCJ audience that in March 2011, government bureaucrats withheld data harvested from an expensive radiation tracking system, called SPEEDI (System for Prediction of Environmental Emergency Dose Information).

Thousands of refugees from the town of Namie, about five miles from the plant, inadvertently fled into the most contaminated areas. The information was, however, passed on to the U.S. Embassy and military in Japan, allowing its personnel to plan for evacuation. “All this was before the new secrets bill,” said Yamamoto.

The SPEEDI debacle was far from the only example of information management or censorship during the Fukushima crisis. For the first few days of the nuclear drama, the public airwaves filled up with government officials and elite nuclear scientists who initially said that there would be no radiation crisis. Academics straying from that message were effectively banned from television and radio. It was two months before Tepco admitted that the Daiichi plant had suffered a triple meltdown. Journalists without independent sources were left in the dark.

New York Times reporter Nori Onishi sets the scene of that time. “In the first couple of months after 3.11, the public inclination was to still trust what the government was saying and what the media was describing, but that started to break down by May,” he says in a paper by Kyle Cleveland, a professor at Temple University Japan. “The foreign media had written about the meltdown in the first week of the disaster, and the Japanese government had criticized the foreign media for being alarmist, and here they were a few months later saying, “Oh yeah, I guess there were meltdowns.”

 

Local journalists complained of restricted
access and arbitrary bans.
Protestors say they were harassed.

 

Understandably, perhaps, the government has mostly attempted to steer debate away from Fukushima and toward rising tensions in Asia, where it feels it is on safer political ground. A draft of the secrecy bill, published in the Asahi online newspaper in October, cites the “increasingly complex international situation” and the “growing importance of securing information related to national security.”

One possible application for the new law could be seen in November, when Japan held some of its largest-ever military exercises in Okinawa. Six Japanese warships, 380 military planes and 34,000 troops took part. Local journalists complained of restricted access and arbitrary bans. Protestors say they were harassed. Journalists who argued against the restrictions were told they should “stop trying to help China,” said one newspaper reporter, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Japan already restricts classified information. The National Public Service Law mandates punishment for civil servants who leak to the media; the Mutual Defense Assistance Law stipulates 10 years in prison for whistleblowers who reveal secrets on Japan’s alliance with the U.S. Violators of the 2002 Self Defense Forces Law face five years in jail if they reveal classified national security issues.

 

O

pponents of the bill say Japan’s press club system also helps restrict the flow of information from official Japan to the public. The latest (2013) World Press Freedom survey, published by journalism watchdog Reporters Without Borders, ranks Japan just 53rd, behind most advanced democracies and even Lithuania and Ghana. “Why do we need another law,” asked Yamamoto. “What the government is truly trying to do is increase the power of the state.”

 

Partly in response to such criticisms, and under pressure from its Buddhist-backed coalition partner New Komeito, the LDP has inserted a clause giving what it calls “due consideration” to the public’s right to know. Article 21 of the bill cites “appropriate” news gathering activities, meaning those that “mainly have the purpose of serving a public interest, to the extent they do not constitute violations of law or employ exceptionally inappropriate means.” Unfortunately, there is no independent outside body to monitor how this will be applied.

For hints on how the government will define “inappropriate,” some commentators have been recalling the case of Takichi Nishiyama. In 1971, he famously reported for the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper that Tokyo had agreed to secretly absorb substantial costs of the reversion of Okinawa from U.S. to Japanese rule in 1972, including $4 million to restore farmland that was requisitioned for bases. The young journalist was convicted of handling state secrets after revealing his source, a married Foreign Ministry clerk with whom he was having an affair.

In 2000 and 2002, declassified U.S. diplomatic documents from the National Archives and Records Administration proved beyond all doubt that the pact existed. A senior Ministry of Foreign Affairs official later concurred. But Nishiyama has never been cleared. His crime, it seems, was using “inappropriate means.””

 

 

*Translation copyright belongs to Dr. Sanae Fujita, (Human Rights Centre/ School of Law, University of Essex, United Kingdom) and Mr. Saul Takahashi.

David McNeill writes for the Independent, The Economist, The Chronicle of Higher Education and other publications.

 

Good Morning, Yangon

 

 

Thomas Kean finds the former somnolent Myanmar city a hotbed of change and challenges for the resident journalist

 

J

ournalists lucky enough to have been in Myanmar over the past two-and-a-half years have found themselves at the center of one of the most engaging narratives of political, economic and social change in decades. Iconic moments have come thick and fast, from the grainy image of President Thein Sein and Aung San Suu Kyi sealing their rapprochement underneath a portrait of the country’s father of independence – and the opposition leader’s father – General Aung San, to Barack Obama emerging from Air Force One on the tarmac at Yangon International Airport. Just don’t believe any scribe who tells you they saw it all coming. The manner of the country’s emergence from military rule has been almost as much a surprise to the former generals as readers in London, New York and Tokyo.

Yes, Yangon can be a frustrating city in which to live, and for foreign correspondents and freelancers it lacks the convenience of nearby Bangkok or even Phnom Penh. While a mobile SIM card now only costs $150, internet connections are still frustratingly slow. The electricity and water supplies continue to operate to their own schedules (as I write this, the hum and diesel fumes of the neighbor’s generator are filling my apartment). And all the government officials are located in Nay Pyi Taw, a five-hour drive up a new four-lane highway, called the “Highway of Death” in recognition of its frequent fatal accidents.

 

But the lure of a city –
and country –
opening up to the world is strong.

 

Then there’s the cost of living. While most of us stood staring, mouths gaping, at the reforms that were taking place, Yangon became an expensive place. Okay, food is still cheap, particularly if you stay away from the Roquefort and Danish bacon at CityMart. But finding somewhere both liveable and reasonably priced to unpack the laptop and notebooks has become an almost Sisyphean task. What you would have paid to rent a large house in the Golden Valley neighborhood two years ago is now not enough to secure a 1000-square-foot apartment with a creaking lift and no natural light.

But the lure of a city – and country – opening up to the world is strong. And nowhere is the impact of the reforms more obvious than in Yangon. The former capital, which remains the most important city, provides front row seats to the pleasure and the pain of the new Myanmar, from the grinding traffic to the formerly empty expat bars now crowded with development specialists and business consultants wielding freshly printed business cards.

Some will lament that this once-sleepy city of six million has lost its provincial feel. New signs of the hyper-globalized world are appearing each day. Condominiums and sports cars are rapidly proliferating and the rust-bucket taxis have been mostly scrapped. The black market moneychangers are slowly disappearing off the streets as more businesses accept ATMs and credit cards. International businesses are scrambling to secure office space at eye-watering rates, while hotel rooms are not much cheaper. The leaders of the fast food wave have already arrived, with two Lotteria stores serving up beef burgers and chicken drumsticks. If living in a city that is irreversibly changing appeals, then Yangon calls louder than anywhere else in the world.

These new features of life may sound superficial but there have also been meaningful reforms that have completely changed the environment for journalism.

 

In fact, in less than three years,
the country has become
a beacon of media freedom

 

P

People are no longer afraid. From senior government ministers to dispossessed farmers and lawyers fighting a corrupt judicial system, all speak openly about their hopes and fears for the reform process. Just three years ago, when I was covering the 2010 election for the Myanmar Times, only a handful of local politicians, activists and analysts were brave enough to publicly speculate on what the election could mean for Myanmar. Members of the military government, like Thura Shwe Mann – now speaker of the Parliament, and a presidential aspirant – kept their heads down, following Senior General Than Shwe’s script to an overwhelming election win. Today, Thura Shwe Mann tells public audiences that democracy is the only form of governance that can bring economic prosperity. They have set the tone for a dramatic shift in public discourse in which new voices can be heard, from the transgender community to ethnic minorities.

Censorship is gone: After five decades, the Ministry of Information’s Press Scrutiny and Registration Division has been confined to the dustbin of history. New publications are appearing at a rate unlike anywhere else in the world. During a three-month period earlier this year, a dozen daily newspapers were launched, the majority of them independent of political parties, the government or major business identities. Though some have already disappeared, more are appearing all the time. With no credible journalism schools, fresh-faced graduates with degrees in zoology and physics are being given the chance to put questions to government officials as well as visiting prime ministers. The expatriate editors and journalists at the few English publications, like the Myanmar Times, are invariably young, and keen to both break stories of importance and add depth and nuance to the international coverage of the country. There has never been more to write, analyze and explore in print.

Myanmar is no longer one of the world’s most dangerous places to be a journalist. In fact, in less than three years, the country has become a beacon of media freedom with a print industry that is thriving, vibrant and censorship-free. Visiting foreign correspondents no longer have to employ tactics that would not be out of place in a John le Carré novel to evade the dreaded Military Intelligence and, later, Special Branch. But it also has that other important ingredient – a captivating story that readers everywhere care about.

 

Thomas Kean is the editor of the English-language edition of the Myanmar Times, a weekly newspaper based in Yangon. He has lived in Myanmar for the past six years working as a journalist and editor.

 

 

From the President's desk

 

Lucy_Birmingham.jpg

The holiday and travel season is fast approaching, along with opportunities to enjoy FCCJ’s reciprocal ties with press clubs abroad. We’ve got a total of 13 in Asia, the U.S. and Canada. Please have a look at the list on our new FCCJ website: www.fccj.or.jp/membership/reciprocal-clubs.html

I recently visited the National Press Club (www.press.org) in Washington, D.C. and the Overseas Press Club of America (www.opcofamerica.org) in New York City to strengthen our ties and meet with old and new friends.

At the National Press Club I had the great pleasure of reconnecting with Myron Belkind, FCCJ president from 2003-2004. After 43-years at Associated Press, Myron is now teaching at George Washington University’s School of Media & Public Affairs, and overseeing the NPC as vice president. He’s slated to become president next year. (The announcement will be in December.)

The NPC is located in the heart of D.C. not far from the White House, and occupies an array of elegant rooms, restaurants and office space spread across two floors. My jaw dropped when I saw their fully staffed Broadcast Operations Center. The fitness center with in-house trainer was another eye opener.

Myron revealed the NPC has had four consecutive years with profits of more than $1 million and hopes to be near that level this year. They’ve eliminated their long-term debt and built reserves of nearly $3 million.

This achievement comes from a five-year strategic plan from 2009-2013 led by executive director Bill McCarren and successive boards of governors. Before this, the Club had substantial debt, no reserves, and a business model producing operating losses.

How did they go from loss to profit? Disciplined belt-tightening, a change of course, new goals and new revenue streams. Interestingly, we share several challenges and goals going forward. They’re now focusing on attracting young members, as their membership is shrinking and aging. They’re also considering corporate memberships, and exploring strategic partnerships.

The National Press Club’s financial turnaround is inspiring indeed, and a great example for the FCCJ to work from. It’s time we created our own five-year strategic plan.

At the Overseas Press Club of America I connected with executive director Sonya Fry and veteran journalist and author Bill Holstein. Bill was formerly posted to Hong Kong and Beijing and has visited Japan often over the years.

The OPC publishes an informative monthly newsletter and the Dateline magazine, published once a year for their annual awards dinner in April. The special edition features winners of the 22 Overseas Press Club Awards. The annual awards are for international coverage published or broadcast in the U.S. or by a U.S.-based company, or accessible to an American audience. The 2013 awards entry deadline is Jan. 30, 2014. The awards dinner is April 24, 2014.

Like many press clubs, the OPC’s membership and facilities have been shrinking but the Club continues to be a powerful voice for press freedom and human rights. In Dateline, OPC President Michael Serrill writes: “Covering the world has never been more dangerous. And while we at the OPC complain that the band of reporters traveling beyond our shores is constantly shrinking, the number of people targeted by the authorities is rapidly expanding.”

It’s more important than ever to protect press freedom and honor those who brave the reporting dangers. I’d like to propose the FCCJ establish one if not several awards similar to the Overseas Press Club. Please let me know if you are interested in helping organize this.

Finally, Sonya Fry told me about the International Association of Press Clubs established in 2002 and based in Dubai, UAE at the Dubai Press Club. Please have a look at their website: www.iapressclubs.org. I’ll be contacting them about the FCCJ joining their important networking organization.

Lucy Birmingham

 

Taking the leash off Japan's Self-Defense Forces

AP0610290785.jpg

Todd Crowell asks: is “collective defense” necessary or a shift toward
a more aggressively militaristic Japan?

 

Imagine this scenario: a lightly armed U.S. Navy intelligence-gathering ship cruising off the coast of North Korea is suddenly surrounded by DPRK patrol vessels demanding its surrender. Only a few kilometers away, a destroyer belonging to the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (the Japan’s navy) happens to be cruising close enough to offer help.

The prime minister must make a quick and agonizing decision. Does he order the destroyer to the rescue of a friendly vessel in harm’s way, thereby violating the constitution, breaking the law and possibly exposing the ship’s captain to criminal charges if any North Korean is killed? Or, should he obey the law, restrain the captain and almost certainly destroy the alliance with the nation’s main protector?

This scenario is by no means far-fetched. A lightly armed U.S. Navy vessel, the U.S.S. Pueblo, was waylaid by the North Koreans and seized in January, 1968. The only difference is that there were no Japanese naval vessels (or American naval or air assets, for that matter) close enough to help the Pueblo when it was surrounded and captured.

 

The U.S.-Japan security arrangement
is often called an “alliance.”
It is not.

 

Yet it is this kind of scenario that lies behind the renewed push to pass the necessary changes to the Self-Defense Forces Act that would permit Japan to engage in what’s called “collective self-defense.” Briefly, it refers to a country coming to the aid of an ally when it is under attack and the country is in a position to help out. For years the Japanese government has interpreted collective defense as going against the country’s war-renouncing constitution.

The U.S.-Japan security arrangement is often called an “alliance.” It is not. The term alliance is purely a courtesy title. The so-called alliance is, in essence, a deal. The U.S. promises to defend Japan if it is attacked, with nuclear weapons if necessary (the nuclear umbrella). In return, Japan agrees to permit American bases on its soil for Americans to use basically as they see fit.

However, Japan is not obligated to defend the U.S. if she comes under attack. The most commonly mentioned scenario – intercepting a North Korean intercontinental ballistic missile fired over Japan on the way to the U.S. mainland – is considered by most observers as far-fetched. The “Pueblo scenario,” of rendering assistance to U.S. Navy ships if needed, is a more likely contingency.

The main practical emphasis behind a push to approve collective defense is Japan’s rapidly expanding involvement in United Nations Peacekeeping Operations. In the past 20 years, more than 8,000 Self-Defense Force troops have been involved in PKOs in half a dozen countries. Engineering troops are currently stationed in South Sudan, and army medical personnel help in earthquake-ravaged Haiti. The navy takes part in anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden.

The 2007 changes to the Self-Defense Forces Act made participating in U.N.-approved peace operations one of the main missions. But it did not address such issues as lending assistance to other nations participating in the joint operations. So now Japan cannot come to the assistance, say, of an NGO targeted by terrorists, for example, or help a non-Japanese ship attacked by pirates based in Somalia.

The SDF is literally crossing its fingers that nearby friendly units won’t come under attack,” says Yuichi Hosoya, a law professor at Keio University. Other naval vessels on anti-piracy patrol avoid getting too close to Japanese vessels, he said. “It’s too dangerous.” That Japan has never been in a quandary over protecting is colleagues on anti-piracy patrol “has been sheer luck.”

Earlier LDP administrations had sought to modify the current restrictions against collective defense, but they were in office for too short a time to accomplish anything. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s recent remarks to the effect that he is in no rush to enact the change probably comes from a realization that the current government, still enjoying 60 percent-plus approval ratings after eight months in office, is in power for a long stretch.

 

Put this all together and it seems
to herald a significant shift
toward a more militaristic Japan.

 

Currently, two special committees have been convened to consider aspects of Japan’s future security posture. They are expected to make their recommendations later this year for introduction to the Diet next year. One is the Advisory Panel on Reconstruction of the Legal Basis for Security, dealing with the collective defense issue. The other is the Advisory Panel on National Security and Defense Capabilities.

Additionally, the Diet will consider two security-related bills in the current special session that began in October. This includes a law to create a National Security Council similar to the American NSC, and a projected doubling of the penalties for leaking classified information. Washington considers the current regulations too slack, obliging it to withhold certain sensitive information.

The panel on National Defense Capabilities is separate from the collective defense panel and looks into other issues – such as the question of permitting pre-emptive strikes against a country (say North Korea) that it believes is preparing to launch a missile attack against Japan. Another issue under study is the advisability of creating a marine corps-like branch of the ground forces to defend or, if necessary, retake Japanese islands south of Okinawa.

These could possibly be considered offensive capabilities outlawed by Article 9 of the Constitution. On the other hand, the Defense Ministry specifically defines proscribed offensive weapons systems as being Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles, long-range bombers and aircraft carriers. It does not mention cruise missiles, troops trained in amphibious assaults or aerial refueling aircraft.

Put this all together and it seems to herald a significant shift toward a more militaristic Japan. That, certainly, is how many would interpret it, since these measures would gut the war-renouncing Article 9, destabilize the regional security environment, irritate China and drag Japan into American-inspired conflicts it has no desire to take part in.

Or, it may simply be recognizing the changing security circumstances in Northeast Asia, including North Korea’s nuclear weapons and China’s growing military and its intransigence over the disputed Senkaku islands. Speaking at the first session of the Defense Capabilities panel in September, Abe said: “I will proceed with the rebuilding of a national security policy that clearly addresses the realities facing Japan.”

The prospects of any of this being enacted are uncertain. The current relatively short Diet session is crammed with many potentially contentious issues, mostly related to the government’s economic program. There may be opposition from the LDP’s parliamentary coalition partner, New Komeito, which is more pacifistic. But at the moment the government has the luxury of time.

Todd Crowell was Senior Writer for Asiaweek from 1987 to 2001, and is the author of Who’s Afraid of Asian Values.


 

Sayuri Daimon, the Japan Times

DSC_6484.jpg

Lucy Alexander contributes to our series of Club Member profiles.

 

Sayuri Daimon is quietly inciting a cultural revolution. As the first female managing editor of a Japanese national newspaper, she is implementing a strategy that she is confident will secure the future of two threatened species: working mothers and paying newspaper readers.

After a 22-year career on the Japan Times as a reporter and editor, Daimon was appointed to the paper’s top editorial and management job on Oct. 1, two weeks before it shape-shifted into a bulky hybrid creature, the two-headed “Japan Times, incorporating the International New York Times.”

The new package is as cumbersome in physical bulk as it is in nomenclature, but its front page design, complete with colorful masthead cutout puffs, gives good news-stand. On Sundays, a new svelte tabloid edition with a photo-led cover and bright center pullout section out-sparkles its turgid rivals.

Daimon expects the tie-up to increase print circulation from its current level of around 27,000 a day to about 45,000. The paper’s website introduced a metered paywall on Nov. 1, charging up to ¥3,000 a month for access to all articles. Readers who register on the site can see 20 articles a month for free.

 

Daimon personally exemplifies
the international values for which
the Japan Times stands.

 

She is confident that the new package will improve the paper’s fortunes. The key advantage, she says, is her paper’s ability to attract the increasing number of overseas online readers who want to find out more about the land of Abenomics and radioactive fish. “We have this unique position that we are reporting in English. When the paper was established in 1897, it only catered to foreign residents of Japan – a very limited readership. Now in this digital age we can reach out to international readers, which the Japanese-language papers cannot do. I think this is an area in which we can do well.”

Daimon personally exemplifies the international values for which the Japan Times stands. As a pupil at a “regular Japanese school” in Tokyo, she was fascinated by the carefree students at a nearby international school. “I used to watch them and could see that they were actually enjoying their school life. They didn’t have to wear a uniform. I thought, ‘Those people are so free!’ So I guess envy motivated me to study more and to explore their world.”

The young Sayuri begged her parents to let her go to school in America. “They said, ‘Of course not!’” When she finally got the chance, on a high school exchange program to Tennessee in 1983, she found the experience “shocking.” “People said things like ‘Howdy,’ and they were so big!” Nevertheless, on her return she persuaded her mother to let her transfer to a boarding school in Pennsylvania, where she spent two happy years.

Daimon returned to Tokyo to study politics (in English) at Sophia University, and spent a year in New Zealand before graduating in 1991 and starting work as a reporter on the Japan Times. Her working life became more complicated nine years ago when she became a parent. Like every prominent full-time working mother, she is regularly asked how she manages to “juggle housework and childrearing and work.” Naturally, this correspondent asked the same question. Daimon found a private nursery that would look after her daughter until 9pm, and shared pick-ups with her husband, who is self-employed.

 

“It’s important that women have a say
in the news industry
and bring in other perspectives.”

 

“I can’t imagine how it would work if he had a full-time job,” she said. “My neighbors help me a lot. We are all working mothers so I do the same for them too.” Is it worth it? “It’s important that women have a say in the news industry and bring in other perspectives.”

While supportive of Shinzo Abe’s recent promise to boost the economy by harnessing the power of Japan’s housewives, Daimon is highly sceptical of his wheeze to enforce three-year maternity leave. “Initially I wondered whether that was a deliberate attempt to exclude women from the workplace,” she said, “because it’s very difficult to return to work after three years. He should think about raising the number of nurseries and babysitting services instead.”

Daimon has implemented a family-friendly rota of flexible working at the paper, which she says enables employees with children to spend time at home while also being able to plan ahead for shifts at the paper. “No one else does this type of shift work,” she says, “because all the other editors are Japanese men, and there is this belief that newspaper people should be always on call. Being on call is exactly what parents can’t do.”

Government and employers, she says, have to realize than men will increasingly have to take time off to care for their families. “Our society is aging and people will need to care for their parents.  Now that there are so many single men, they will not be able to depend on a wife, so they will have to do it themselves at exactly the age when they will be getting to managerial level. This is what Abe should be focusing on, not just seeing it as a female problem.”

From her position on the edge of the male-dominated world of Japanese business and politics, Daimon contemplates the role of the Japan Times on the edge of the closed shop that is the Japanese media. “We are not in every press club,” she says, pointedly. However, she feels this distance gives the paper an objectivity that others lack. “The paper is the creation of a collaboration between Japanese and non-Japanese perspectives,” she says, “and what we produce is more valuable because of that.” ❶

Lucy Alexander is a freelance journalist and correspondent for The Times.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nuclear energy to save the world?

 

Oct_17_13_PC_Robert_Stone047.jpg

A renowned documentary filmmaker undergoes an epiphany,
Justin McCurry writes, and in his new film avers that advances in nuclear energy
are an answer to climate change

 

Anxiety over the dangers of nuclear power in the wake of the Fukushima Daiichi meltdown is overshadowing the far more urgent problem of climate change, according to the filmmaker Robert Stone.

In a recent appearance at the FCCJ to promote his new documentary, Pandora’s Promise, the U.S.-based director suggested that opinion among environmentalists was shifting towards an acceptance – at least in private – that without nuclear in the energy mix, combating global warming will be impossible.

[Environmentalists] have expressed the belief that we are doomed, that there was no hope, and that climate change would eventually engulf us all,” Stone said. “I found that appalling as a father of two children. The more I looked at [climate change and nuclear energy] the more fascinating it became. I learned that everything I thought I knew about nuclear power was wrong.”

The role nuclear energy could play in steering the world away from an environmental catastrophe forms the narrative arc of the 90-minute film, which caused a stir after its debut at the Sundance film festival earlier this year.

 

"Everything I thought I knew about
nuclear power was wrong.”

 

As a former opponent of nuclear energy, Stone has undergone the same dramatic conversion as other erstwhile anti-nuclear figures, notably the newspaper columnist Georges Monbiot, who publicly ditched his opposition to atomic energy in a widely distributed column in the Guardian newspaper. Like Monbiot, Stone accepts that his change of heart is unlikely to endear him to most environmental activists.

While making the film, Stone visited the Fukushima nuclear evacuation zone and Chernobyl, and took atmospheric radiation readings in locations around the world. But if Fukushima galvanized Japan’s anti-nuclear movement, for Stone it simply reaffirmed his belief that, rather than abandoning its nuclear plants, Japan needs to perfect the technology and build the safest reactors in the world.

What we need to do is use the best technology we have to solve this problem, and get past the ideological dogma that has prevented us from looking at all of our options,” he said.

It is utterly hypocritical to suggest that we are facing an existential challenge to human civilization with climate change and yet we’re going to reject one of the biggest sources of energy that doesn’t produce CO2.I think there’s an opportunity here for Japan to take the lessons of Fukushima . . . and turn it into something positive [and] lead the world with the best, safest and most efficient nuclear power plants in the world.”

Pandora’s Promise replays many of the debates that have been raging on social media since the Fukushima accident a little over two and a half years ago. On one side, environmental activists, authors and experts, including Stewart Brand, editor of the Whole Earth Catalog, make the case for nuclear energy. On the other, prominent anti-nuclear activists such as Helen Caldicott are portrayed as alarmists who refuse to confront the grim reality of global warming.

Since its release in the U.S., the film has had a “remarkable impact among campaigners and experts,” Stone said. “For far too long, when this subject was discussed, the word nuclear is hardly ever mentioned as a clean energy source. It’s been ignored and this film has really put this back on the table. We’re definitely having an impact.”

In August, the U.S.-based anti-nuclear group Beyond Nuclear labeled the film pro-nuclear propaganda and accused Stone of making light of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986. And Stone dismissed the suggestion by a member of the FCCJ audience that the film is a “slick advertorial” for the nuclear power industry. “This is a 90-minute documentary for the general public to raise a discussion,” he said. “Would you like it to not be slick? Would you like it to be boring? I have to tell a story that connects with human beings or they won’t see it.

It’s fine for people to decide to turn away from nuclear power, if that’s what they want to do, but it needs to be done with open eyes and open minds about what the alternatives are. Japan has shut down its nuclear reactors but has just switched over to fossil fuels, and that creates its own problem.”

Stone was critical of the tone of much of the media coverage of Fukushima, although he understood the attraction of the narratives generated by the evacuation of tens of thousands of people from areas near the power plant.

With Fukushima, the story unfortunately is one that amps up the fear and amps up the possibility of what might happen, what could happen, what might have happened,” he said. “You also have the emotional drama of the people who’ve been impacted by this. These are all good stories, there’s absolutely no question of that. There’s not so much of a story in saying that, actually, radiation levels in most of the exclusion zone around Fukushima are within normal background levels in many parts of the world.

Are you going to get a headline out of that?” he asked. “I don’t think so.”

Pandora’s Promise will be broadcast on CNN in November and will soon be available for download via iTunes in 25 countries. Stone promised a screening at the FCCJ prior to its opening at cinemas in Japan in February.

Justin McCurry is Japan and Korea correspondent for the Guardian and the Observer. He contributes to the Christian Science Monitor and the Lancet medical journal, and reports on Japan and Korea for France 24 TV.

 

 

 

My exclusive sit-down with the outlaw Mandela

MANDELA_INTERVIEW.jpg

While a weakened Nelson Mandela battles for his life,
Peter Hazelhurst recalls his encounter with the icon

"My exclusive sit-down with the outlaw Mandela."

It was probably the best – or at least one of the most dramatic – leads that I produced in nearly 40 years in journalism. It was also the first and last interview that any journalist held with Mandela before he was betrayed and arrested a few months later.

The contents of that exclusive underground interview with Mandela 52 years ago also proved to be historic, as the African leader assured South Africa’s white supporters of apartheid that they had nothing to fear from black majority rule.

“We want a National Convention of all groups of the country which would form a new, non-racial constitution to bring about a new non-racial and democratic South African society. We will certainly not start any violence. That would play into the governments hands,” he declared, in an attempt to assure an apprehensive but unbending white ruling minority.

 

In May, the South African police had launched
a national manhunt for the 42-year-old attorney

 

In sharp contrast to the opportunistic swings of most politicians worldwide, Mandela never wavered from that statement when – after spending 27 years in prison – he ushered in relatively peaceful majority rule and a democratic constitution in South Africa in 1993.

In May 1961, the South African police – spearheaded by a ruthless political Special Branch – had launched a national manhunt for Mandela, then a 42-year-old attorney, who was in hiding while organizing the National Action Council, which was planning massive demonstrations against the government to be held on May 31.

The South African government had tarnished Mandela as a dangerous rabble rouser who advocated the violent overthrow and suppression of the white ruling minority.

The propaganda had successfully equated Mandela with the hardline policies of the anti-colonial movements in other parts of Africa – particularly the Mau Mau in Kenya.

No one had the slightest inkling at the time that Mandela would emerge within four decades as one of the greatest advocates of non-violence on the continent – and, ironically, the savior of the white and other non-African minorities in South Africa.

I was then a reporter on the Johannesburg Sunday Express. Naturally, other African leaders in the movement were hesitant to reveal Mandela’s whereabouts, even to journalists. But one of my contacts and a friend, Ruth First, a white supporter of the African National Congress, assured Mandela’s close aides that they could trust me. (Ruth was later killed in Mozambique by a letter bomb designed by the South African Special Branch.)

The go-between, Ahmed Kathrada – who was to spend 27 years in prison with Mandela – walked into the reporters’ room in early May and quietly promised to take me to the African leader within a few hours.

I had no idea of what to expect when this tall imposing figure – dressed in a dark polo neck pullover – rose to shake hands at a point in history when race relations in South Africa appeared to be on the precipice of an unprecedented disaster.

 

My editors were hesitant to provide space
to a man who had been labeled as a dangerous
advocate of violence

 

But within minutes Mandela made it clear he and the ANC were offering the ruling white minority a non-violent solution of equal rights in the future of South Africa.

I was left with no doubt that he was genuine.

When I outlined the story to my editors the next day, they were hesitant in providing space to a man who had been labeled as a dangerous advocate of violence – a step which could inflame the newspaper’s white readers.

I had taped the interview, and asked the editor of the Sunday Express to listen to the recording before coming to a decision.

As the tape ended, he declared: “We will run the story.”

With rat-like cunning, which has proved to be my main forte in four decades of reporting, I had foreseen that the Special Branch would take an unhealthy interest in anyone with access to Mandela. I insisted that even if I became aware of the meeting place I should be blindfolded to protect contacts who were hiding the African leader.

And within hours of publication my precautions were justified: the Special Branch pulled me in for interrogation.

The head of the Johannesburg Special Branch, a Colonel Att Spengler, and two other interrogators demanded that I expose Mandela’s whereabouts. I simply referred them to the opening paragraph.

After three hours of frustrated questioning, they reluctantly released me with the words: “We are sure you know where Mandela is.” I just shrugged and left.

 

Mandela used extracts from my evidence
in his first book

 

After Mandela was arrested in August 1962, I was subpoenaed by the prosecutors to give evidence at his first trial. The state required evidence under oath confirming the contents in the article.

I agreed, as I knew Mandela would certainly not retract the statements he had made in his outspoken fight against the Nationalist government and apartheid. And, much to the chagrin of the prosecution, Mandela then cross-examined me, using the court as an instrument to publicize some of the injustices of white minority rule. (He later used extracts from my evidence in his first book, No Easy Walk to Freedom.)

The prosecutors now found they had a hostile witness on their hands. During the recess a senior police officer and a prosecutor approached me outside the court and used threats in an attempt to sway my response to Mandela’s questions.

My responses stuck with the truth. The threats never materialized. ❶

Peter Hazelhurst was Asia correspondent for the Times and a member of the FCCJ from 1972 to 1989.

 

Japan Today is looking at tomorrow

Julian Ryall reports on a news and information site that has come a long way — and has ambitious plans for more growth

 

From an adjunct to Metropolis magazine that only went live in September 2000, the Japan Today website has grown into an established news and information portal that gets as many as 4 million page views a month and is giving Tokyo's traditional English-language media a run for their money.

With print media struggling to find a way of generating income in an increasingly online news world and more instituting pay walls – The Japan Times having recently announced it will start charging for access to its online offerings – Japan Today remains committed to the free content model. “While we have considered the pay-to-view option, we want to continue to offer our core news content for free and bring in new products that give our readers quality content and our advertisers more variety through leading-edge platforms,” said Kieron Cashell, business development leader for Japan Today, which is part of GPlus Media Co.

And while “the usual suspects” in the Tokyo English-language media might be considered rivals, Cashell says the fundamental advantage Japan Today has is that the free content is constantly updated, ensuring the viewers keep coming back for more. “Our competitors do not update their sites as often as we do,” said Chris Betros, editor of the site. “We can also get something up on the site much faster.

 

"We beat our rivals by at least an hour."

 

“A good example of this was on Sept. 8, when Japan was awarded the 2020 Olympic Games,” he said. “One of our editorial staff was up at 5a.m. watching the TV and after Tokyo was announced as the winner, we were able to post a short story within minutes. We beat our rivals by at least an hour.

“We are also well known around the world,” he added. “Countless times, news organizations overseas – such as the BBC and several radio stations in the U.S. – have called us, asking for an editor to comment on news topics on one of their programs.”

When Japan Today was launched in 2000, the online news revolution was already under way, but founders Mark and Mary Devlin are credited by the respected Editor & Publisher magazine with making the portal the first in the world to have a comments section beneath each story.

The site was acquired in 2007 by GPlus Media, which includes GaijinPot, CareerEngine, Realestate.co.jp, Savvy Tokyo and ChinaSplash in its stable of titles. “Japan Today was already an established brand and it had become a high-traffic site with a large user base,” said Cashell. “Simply, the traffic and the readers were attractive to us and we knew we could expand the audience and brand even further.”

The aim is to remain “ahead of the curve in giving our readers what they demand and expect,” said Cashell. “We had a mobile version of the site even before reading news on smartphones was popular. We now present readers with options to enjoy the news in a variety of ways, such as mobile apps, social media platforms in both Japanese and English, a digital monthly magazine, embedding audio interviews with articles, podcasts, as well as video – although this is mostly in the community pages – and all of which is free for the user.”

 

A monthly lifestyle “magazine” has also been released, available through subscription

 

New innovations include the Insight community pages, which enable users to have their own space on the site where they can upload announcements, news, promote special offers and so on, and which readers can view alongside the news. A monthly lifestyle “magazine” has also been released, available through subscription on iTunes, iPad and iPhone, with Android devices to be added to that list very soon.

At present, more than 30 percent of visitors to the site are accessing it via a mobile device. That is expected to grow to more than 50 percent within the next five years.

The Lehman Shock and, more specifically to Japan, the March 2011 disasters have taken their toll on the industry, primarily through savage reductions in advertising revenues – a cause for concern in a title that admits it relies “100 percent on our advertisers.”

“Of course our advertising revenues suffered temporarily, but were bolstered by strong sales in jobs,” says Cashell. “We also began innovating new forms of advertising and leveraging our large readership, both in Japan and abroad, through new products such as Insight.”

Covering events such as the 3/11 Earthquake and its aftermath “tested our ability to deliver the news and stay on-line,” Betros said. “Huge spikes in traffic during such crises are a burden on our servers and sometimes access to the site is not as fast as we would wish, but we managed and grew our readership,” he added.

Having ridden the rough times, Cashell is confident that Japan Today can continue to build on its reputation and reach. “Japan, like the rest of the world, is consuming more and more information – including news – via the web, so in that respect electronic media is strong and growing,” he said. “However, we see social media quickly taking over as the platform for marketing budgets and so on.”

At present, the site is recording more than 600,000 unique visitors a month with up to 4 million page views. “I think many overseas readers use us as a window into Japanese society or have direct business dealings with Japan,” said Betros, pointing out that readers of the site include the prime minister’s office, U.S. congressmen, overseas news organizations, ambassadors and corporate leaders. “Crime and national news are popular categories of news, as is anything offbeat,” he added. “The comments are another big draw as this brings additional views on the news, although unfortunately too many readers use that to bash Japan.”

That downside apart, Cashell and Betros have faith in the product and its future.

“In the short term, we would like to see Japan Today have another year like we did this year, which featured a rise in all areas: amount of content, traffic, revenues and services,” said Cashell. “And the possibilities extend well beyond news; it could become the biggest English-language media brand in Japan.”

Betros is looking even further into the future: “In the long term, it has the potential to be the foremost site for Japan news in English.” ❶

Julian Ryall is the Japan correspondent for The Daily Telegraph.

 

 

 

Book Review: The Reason I Jump

jump.jpg

The Reason I Jump
by Naoki Higashida
Translated by KA Yoshida and David Mitchell (135pp. Random House)

reviewed by Tyler Rothmar

 

Just two days after the popular host of “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” raved about the English translation of The Reason I Jump – a book on autism written by a 13-year-old Japanese boy – it had soared to number one on Amazon.com.

The book was introduced on the show by the guest, Cloud Atlas author David Mitchell, who with his wife translated this rewarding little book and penned its foreward, and whose young son, like Higashida, is autistic.

Although Higashida is now 21 and a public speaker and author, when he wrote the original Japanese-language edition of the book at the age of 13, he joined the ranks of Temple Grandin, Carly Fleischmann and others as a kind of embedded correspondent reporting from the trenches of the disorder. In the form of answers to 58 questions, interspersed with short stories and musings, the author attempts to explain his condition, to be understood and to improve the quality of life for people with autism and those who care for them.

 

The attempt to elucidate the differences unearths
universal human experience.

 

Throughout the book, Higashida speaks both for himself and for autistic people interchangeably. This is understandable, given his age, but the assumption that his experiences of autism are shared by all autistic people is worth questioning, especially given the wide array of symptoms the disorder presents. As Mitchell noted in his “Daily Show” appearance, it’s probably better to speak in terms of “autisms,” rather than the singular, so varied and mysterious is the disorder. The other side of that coin is the idea that people with autism are fundamentally different from those without it.

Yet it is that very assumption that makes this book such a worthwhile read. The attempt to elucidate the differences unearths universal human experience. As he struggles with his autism and fights to interact with a world run by non-autistic people, the young Higashida marvels at the rest of us: “You normal people, you talk at an incredible speed. Between thinking something in your head and saying it takes you just a split second. To us, that’s like magic!” And fair enough.

In his descriptions of the beauty of nature, however, and his experience of time, Higashida unwittingly dusts off unimagined common ground. Evoking religious and mystical tones, he writes, “Just by looking at nature, I feel as if I’m being swallowed up into it, and in that moment I get the sensation that my body’s now a speck, a speck from long before I was born, a speck that is melting into nature herself. This sensation is so amazing that I forget that I’m a human being, and one with special needs to boot.”

In another section on being immersed in water, Higashida voices a sentiment to which many divers and swimmers can relate: “It’s so quiet and I’m so free and happy there. Nobody hassles us in the water, and it’s as if we’ve got all the time in the world. Whether we stay in one place or whether we’re swimming about, when we’re in the water we can really be at one with the pulse of time. Outside of the water there’s always too much stimulation for our eyes and our ears, and it’s impossible for us to guess how long one second is or how long an hour takes.”

The book is an indispensable aid
for people who live or work with others who
have the disorder.

Where the isolation and stigmatization that mark the disorder often result in autistic people being thought of as another category, Higashida’s writing clearly situates them on a spectrum, albeit at the far end, of the human experience. Reading his words, one is left with the notion that we’re all subject to the peculiarities of our own grey matter and the myriad nuances and differences in perception that entails.

That said, the daily battle of living with autism is dealt with plainly. “Whenever we’ve done something wrong, we get told off or laughed at, without even being able to apologize, and we end up hating ourselves and despairing about our own lives, again and again and again. It’s impossible not to wonder why we were born into this world as human beings at all,” he writes.

The horror of being trapped in a body that won’t obey, the paralysis of trying to keep up with life among the non-autistic and the shame and despair of disappointing loved ones run through the work like a pulse, always accompanied by a constant reminder, a plea, not to give up on autistic people.

In that Higashida casts light on some of autism's stranger traits, giving an insider perspective on sensory perception, feelings, panic attacks, numbers, schedules and language, the book is an indispensable aid for people who live or work with others who have the disorder.

Beyond that though, it is a thoroughly engaging read in and of itself. With disarmingly simple turns of phrase, Naoki Higashida, writing at the age of 13 with help by pointing at a chart of the Japanese alphabet, deals with joy and despair, wonder and death and the pith of what it is to be alive in the tradition of the finest writers.

Tyler Rothmar is an editor and writer based in Tokyo.

 

 

 

Will the Secrets Protection Bill criminalize journalism?

Michael Penn calls for action against a bill
that could intimidate journalists from doing their jobs

 

By the very nature of the FCCJ, engagement with the society that surrounds us is a primary concern. Indeed, right there near the beginning of the Articles of Association is a declaration that our objective is “to defend the freedom of the press and free exchange of information and, in so doing, to maintain and increase friendly relations and sympathetic understanding between Japan and other countries.”

That being the case, we cannot be silent in the face of a government bill that could potentially criminalize investigative journalism in this country. The “Designated Secrets Bill” advanced by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, and reluctantly agreed to by the coalition New Komeito Party, is a threat clearly aimed at journalists as well as Japanese public officials.

The bill provides for prison terms of up to ten years, not only for government insiders who leak information regarded as “secret,” but also for those, including journalists, who encourage them to do so. And whereas existing laws mandate protection of military secrets alone, the new bill will expand such secrecy to every government ministry.

 

Freedom of the press, according to this bill,
is no longer a democratic right of an open society,
but rather something for which the government “must show sufficient consideration.”

 

As for the crucial issue of oversight, the new bill will allow each ministry itself to decide what should be deemed a secret. The LDP specifically rejected calls from lawyers and other groups for third-party panels to scrutinize how the bureaucrats would employ secrecy designations.

Among the groups that were alarmed by the earlier versions of this bill was the coalition New Komeito Party. While Abe’s ruling party was reluctant to provide any specific guarantees for “freedom of the press” or “the people’s right to know,” New Komeito insisted that this language be specifically mentioned in the bill. After an extended tug-of-war, the ruling party finally acceded to the idea and this language was included.

However, as the Japan Times rightly pointed out in a strong editorial on Sept. 25, these phrases “will be a mere declaration that will not have any effective power to guarantee those rights.” The editors went on to conclude that “the bill is clearly antidemocratic in nature.”

Just how antidemocratic? The more operative section of the bill describes the role of journalism as follows: “So long as it aims exclusively at serving the public interest, and does not violate the law or engage in inappropriate methods, it is a legitimate activity.”

Freedom of the press, according to this bill, is no longer a democratic right of an open society, but rather something for which the government “must show sufficient consideration.”

This is the grudging acknowledgement of our profession that long hours of negotiations between the LDP and New Komeito eventually produced. The Abe government didn’t want to include even this degree of protection for journalists.

Outside of the arch-conservative circles that concocted this bill (cheered on by some former U.S. government officials who see it as a step toward firming up the bilateral military alliance), there has already been a great deal of criticism.

The influential Japan Newspaper Publishers & Editors Association (Nihon Shinbun Kyokai) has issued a series of declarations expressing concern about the bill. Some opposition political parties argue that this bill would effectively deprive the people of their right to know about their own government’s activities. Even a normally non-political celebrity like model Norika Fujiwara has weighed in against the bill.

 

The evidence to date
suggests considerable cause for alarm.

 

The Japanese public, too, has spoken up. During the brief public comment period on the bill allowed by the government, a flood of about 90,000 messages was received, with just under 80 percent of those messages expressing clear disapproval.

Working journalists in Japan can also reflect upon our experience with the Personal Information Protection Act of 2003. Individual privacy is, of course, an important right of democratic citizenship, but the expansive way in which that law was interpreted hindered the legitimate work of more than one investigative journalist in Japan.

If the Designated Secrets Bill becomes law, I wonder how many journalists and their editors will be deterred from publishing stories based on unofficial government sources fearing, whether fully justified or not, that they may spend 10 years in a Japanese prison for doing so? Beyond that, of course, is the matter of how public officials themselves might be so terrorized by the law that they would become almost entirely unwilling to respond to quiet media enquiries.

Naturally, the reality may prove to be considerably less grim than the picture drawn here. It may turn out that by the end of the legislative process the Designated Secrets Bill could contain many appropriate guarantees that ensure that legitimate media activities will not be disrupted and that the Japanese people’s right to know about their government’s behavior will not be seriously imperiled. Future applications of the law, should it be enacted, may be conducted with restraint.

However, the evidence to date suggests considerable cause for alarm.

For this reason, members of the Freedom of the Press Committee urge the FCCJ membership to engage in a positive fashion with this crucial issue. We cannot remain silent in the face of a bill that is clearly aimed at deterring journalists from carrying out our democratic responsibilities. Indeed, fighting for “freedom of the press and free exchange of information” is a central principle upon which our Club was established, and now is one of those occasions upon which we are required to fulfill the noble sentiments that an earlier generation laid down for us.

Michael Penn is president of the Shingetsu News Agency and chairman of the Freedom of the Press Committee

 

 

Exhibition: Prism Tokyo 2013

 

Brushstroke2.jpg

Photographs by Jasna Boudard

THIS MONTH’S EXHIBITION OFFERS a way to view reality from a different perspective.

The collection presents women from Europe and America, although they may appear to be from places beyond your imagination. Jasna does not alter reality with Photoshop, but uses her creativity and works together with other artists to bring a surreal feeling to her work. Her photographs can be compared to looking through a prism at a rainbow layered with colors, designs and lights.

These pictures present a dream-like and poetic twist on portraits, alongside an additional series of Jasna’s world travels.

Jasna Boudard is of French and Bengali descent, and has lived on four continents. She also works as a painter, model, performer and conceptual artist. She has exhibited in the USA and Europe. This is her first exhibition in Japan.

New Members

NEW MEMBERS

 

Li_Hai.jpg

LI HAI, from China’s Sichuan province, studied Japanese at a university in Chengdu for a year before coming to Japan to continue his studies. He later studied law at Kagawa University before enrolling at the graduate school of international language culture of Nagoya University to research Liang Qi-chao, a journalist who came to Japan as a political refugee. He is now working as a journalist at the Tokyo branch office of Hong Kong Satellite TV.

 

Stefano_Carrer.jpg

STEFANO CARRER is the Tokyo bureau chief of Il Sole-24 Ore, the leading Italian economic, financial and political daily newspaper. He got a degree in law at the University of Milan and a Masters in Journalism from the Istituto per la Formazione al Giornalismo in Milan. He worked for Il Sole 24 Ore in 1989 as a stringer from New York before formally joining the newspaper as staff reporter in 1993, and spending extensive periods of work abroad, especially in New York and London. He was on vacation in Tokyo on March 11, 2011 when the earthquake changed his focus: the Italy-Japan Foundation later gave him an award for his reporting about the post-tsunami events. Abenomics brought him back to Japan on a permanent basis, where he’s trying to cope with new multimedia tasks, switching toward radio and video reporting for Web TV.

PROFESSIONAL/JOURNALIST ASSOCIATE MEMBER
Yuko Inoue, Freelance

ASSOCIATE MEMBERS
Masahiko Katou, Iso Kousan Co., Ltd.
Shingo Iwachido, Ozaki & Partners
Chizu Suzuki, Rosie Blue Co.
Hideki Iwatsuki, Quants Research Inc.
Tsutomu Kishino, Ikebukuro District Heating & Cooling Co., Ltd.

Seoul Survivor

Anthony Spaeth claims the South Korean capital is the place to be for a newsman

WHEN I DECIDED IN 1978 TO RESIGN from the Asahi Evening News, my first job in journalism, Bernie Krisher asked me to be Newsweek’s stringer in Seoul. I was very tempted.

But I had different plans, and so did the beautiful Japanese woman, also from the Asahi Evening News, who would become my wife. In the three decades that followed, I spent a lot of time in Korea, flying in from other homes. I wondered how my life might have differed had I accepted Bernie’s offer.

In 2010, 33 years after I first visited Seoul, I was offered the editorship of the JoongAng Daily, a newspaper very similar to the Asahi Evening News.

I accepted easily. The country had never been richer, more successful, freer or, arguably, more hopeful. I have a soft spot for Koreans with their charming intensity. I felt I had grown up with Korea at an arm’s distance – and it was time we finally came together.

I’ve now lived in Seoul for a period in which Korea produced its first smartphone; coming late to the game – but going on to take the greatest share of one of the world’s most important markets. Samsung is now one of the top brands in the world along with McDonald’s and Coca-Cola. “Gangnam Style” became an international phenomenon.

At the same time, Korea remains formally at war. Days after I arrived in 2010, North Korea torpedoed a South Korean warship, killing 49 people. Months later, it shelled an island – the first land attack since the Korean War ended in 1953 – scaring some of the foreign editors at my newspaper. Not the Korean editors or reporters, of course. They laughed it off.

Korea has a lot of news: clockwork corruption scandals, hideous sex crimes, juicy murders, important business news, vicious political infighting and partisanship that makes Washington look cooperative and civil, plus K-pop and sports. That’s a good reason for a newsman to live in Seoul.

But there are other reasons to love living in Korea, even for non-newsmen. They are, in my ascending order of importance:

Life is cheap: I moved to Seoul from Hong Kong. After a few weeks, I pulled out a notepad and did the cost calculations. I discovered that living in Seoul was at least 50 percent cheaper than living in Hong Kong. And that was comparing apples to oranges.

In Hong Kong, I lived on the very noisy King’s Rd. in the not terribly attractive section of Tin Hau, next to Causeway Bay. In my cheaper life in Seoul, I live on top of Namsan, the mountain in the center of Seoul, the equivalent of living on Hong Kong’s peak. My neighbor is the chairman of Samsung, Lee Kun-hee.

In Hong Kong, there was never a moment of quiet in my apartment even with the windows sealed shut. In Seoul, my apartment is quiet as a tomb with windows thrown wide.

 

Koreans are very proud of their ppali-ppali (rush, rush) mentality, and it appeals to me.

Rent is cheap. Taxis are cheap. They say that eating in restaurants in Seoul is cheaper than cooking at home. (No one in Hong Kong says that.) The only cost in Korea that matches that of Hong Kong is the hourly wage of a Filipina housemaid.

Ppali-ppali: Koreans are very proud of their ppali-ppali (rush, rush) mentality, and it appeals to me. It has led to numerous follies in industry and governance and explains why motor scooters are allowed on sidewalks in Seoul, a highly hazardous practice for pedestrians. (Many are delivering food and no one wants their Chinese food or McDonald’s to come cold.)

For the expatriate resident, ppali-ppali translates into finding an apartment quickly, moving in fast, and paperwork being done swiftly. Coming from Hong Kong, ppali-ppali was what I was worried I was leaving behind. I needn’t have worried.

Sound of the city: The way Koreans move around Seoul may not be unique. Women walk arm-in-arm. Men wait at crosswalks performing phantom golf swings or punching their lower backs. But their sound is unique. The sound of Koreans in groups is laughter, which punctuates all conversations. Men have goofy, college laughs. Women’s laughs are knowing and sexy.

Looks matter: Koreans, women and men, are the best looking people in Asia. This is a matter of taste, and I can anticipate arguments from colleagues in Thailand or possibly Indonesia. I hold my own.

Anthony Spaeth, former Executive Editor for Asia for Time magazine, has lived in Tokyo, Hong Kong, Manila, New Delhi and Seoul.

Silvio Berlusconi hates my Girlfriend

stil_12.jpg

Bill Emmott, the former Economist editor, turns his hand to filmmaking
in an attempt to find the cure for Italy’s “lost decades.”

 

I had always subscribed to the old print-hacks’ joke: “You have a great face for radio.” And I had always believed that whatever the lure of large TV audiences, the trade-off of shallowness for reach was not worth it. Words, in inky print or bits and bytes, were where the real action was. Then I discovered Italy, an Italian director-friend, and some themes from Dante Alighieri. The result: a film.

The argument I used to convince Carol, my ever-tolerant wife, was that making a film about Italy represented the least-bad sort of mid-life crisis. Other men buy red sports cars, or start consorting with scarlet women. I had decided to buy some smart suits, get a haircut, and to hurtle around a rather beautiful country in a rather uncomfortable mini-bus along with a camera crew and my guide in this adventure, the aforementioned director, Annalisa Piras.

Thus it was that we – or, really, she, with some amateur input from me, plus my face and voice – made a 98-minute documentary called Girlfriend in a Coma. The title was inspired by a pop song from Britain in the 1980s, roughly when I was living in Japan (my excuse for not having heard of it…), by The Smiths.

The idea the title conveyed was that this was Italy viewed through the eyes of a foreigner, one in love with the country – hence, the girlfriend – but who was saddened by her condition. I felt a bit unfaithful – my original such “girlfriend” is Japan – but we journos are allowed to be a bit promiscuous, after all.

Girlfriend is in a sense a classic work for a foreign correspondent, using the advantage of being an outsider with fresh eyes, though it is also crucially a joint venture, blending the passion and patriotism of Annalisa (albeit an exile who lives in London with her family) with the view of the foreign hack. Her patriotic input also explains why we have tried to make the film not just a one-off but a campaign, aiming to “wake Italy up” from its coma through debates on social media and in civil society groups, schools and universities.

 

I felt a bit unfaithful
– my original such “girlfriend” is Japan –
but we journos are allowed to be a
bit promiscuous, after all.

 

Why Italy? you might ask. Well, why not? I might answer. The more serious answer is that I had become engaged with Italy while I was editing The Economist, as in 2001 we had taken a look at the country’s media-mogul-turned-wannabe-prime-minister, Silvio Berlusconi, and had not liked what we saw: a symbol of the danger of corporate wealth taking over a democracy.

We said on the cover that he was “unfit to lead Italy.” He riposted that we were communists, one of his newspapers pointed out that I look like Lenin, and he sued us for libel. There’s nothing I like more than a good punch-up, and it made me intrigued as to how a country that has so much right about it could go so wrong – politically, morally and in its economy, over more than 20 years. Italy, like Japan in its different way, has “lost” two decades. So the film tries to explain why, say who is responsible, and show how Italy is not an exception but a warning for the rest of the West.

The whole venture was much tougher than I expected. It took longer, cost a lot more, and was a lot more difficult than I had realized. Not so much the performance (though I now have greater sympathy for actors, understanding that their most crucial item of clothing, given all the standing about, is thermal underwear), but the conception (how to blend images and words) and the execution (how to edit, to choose, and to build a narrative from 100 hours of film and some brilliant animation).

We also made things hard for ourselves in commercial terms. We chose to remain independent and not to involve broadcasters as co-producers, in order to keep editorial control. Since we were operating on a shoestring, essentially from Annalisa’s loft, we had no credibility or influence with the film or TV industry. And since we were making a film about a country whose own media and film industry is very incestuous and resistant to outsiders, we were shunned by our best potential market, Italy itself, whether by film distributors, free-to-air TV channels or film festivals.

Then we had a bit of luck. Knowing an Italian election campaign in February 2013 gave us a good chance to get noticed, we organized a small tour of screenings in Italy in the run-up to the vote, to be opened by a premiere-cum-launch party for which we booked a cinema in a rather cool contemporary art museum in Rome, Maxxi. The luck was that 14 days before the event, the director of the (privately run, but state-funded) museum, Giovanna Melandri, decided to ban our premiere.

 

Being banned, of course,
is the best thing
that can happen to any writer or artist.

 

She is a political hack, though from the left rather than Berlusconi’s camp, and came up with the lovely line that it wasn’t right to show a “political” film during an election campaign. Being banned, of course, is the best thing that can happen to any writer or artist. Suddenly we became headline news, martyrs to the cause of free speech, and subjects of an online petition that within four days had got 30,000 signatures calling for our premiere’s reinstatement.

We would never have been able to organize such good publicity ourselves. The premiere was taken over by the Italian news magazine, L’Espresso, in a venue five times larger than the cinema in Maxxi. Our tour of screenings multiplied, as people queued up to organize them all over the country. At last, a private free-to-air TV channel that had previously ignored our approaches, La7 (then owned by Telecom Italia) bought the terrestrial broadcast rights.

The post-screening debates, with audiences young and old, were lively, engaged, sometimes critical, but always in the end supportive, because we were counted as being against “the system,” which many Italians have come to hate. Yet at the now more than 50 such debates we have attended, mostly in Italy but also in London, Paris, Brussels and Berlin, one character in the film drew more criticism than any other.

This was not a politician, nor the Catholic Church, nor a media magnate. It was the Carlos Ghosn of Italy, a Canadian-Italian called Sergio Marchionne who since 2004 has been CEO of the FIAT car company and has done a huge amount to make it viable as a multinational firm, chiefly by buying Chrysler cheaply and turning it round.

The criticism revealed a deeply ambiguous view of globalization and modernization. What Marchionne has tried to do is to take a failing Italian national champion and make it globally competitive – trying to match productivity and management methods used in Germany, Britain, America and, yes, Japan. And he has tried to rock the boat for the business establishment, quitting the business federation Confindustria just as Rakuten’s Hiroshi Mikitani quit Keidanren – except that FIAT is part of the old establishment.

Yet that still doesn’t make him popular. He is a hero in Detroit but a villain in Italy, for his tussles with

trade unions and for the uncomfortable message he puts out about what change means in an age of globalization. If Shinzo Abe ever gets round to really doing anything about his “third arrow” of structural reforms he may well feel a bit of sympathy for Marchionne-san.

So what’s next? Obviously, not another film? Hmm, well, that mid-life crisis just won’t go away. We’re at work on a film now about the current threats to the European Dream, this time with the BBC as co-producers. And to support that and other projects, weve set up “The Wake Up Foundation,” a non-profit dedicated to research and communication, through films and words, about the sources of Western decline. I’d love eventually to do a film about my real girlfriend, Japan. No peace for the wicked.

Bill Emmott was editor-in-chief of The Economist (1993-2006) and its Tokyo correspondent (1983-86). Now an independent writer based in Britain, he is the author of 10 books and the documentary Girlfriend in a Coma. Bill was FCCJ Secretary, 1985-86.

 

 

 

New Members

 

 

ramon_foto_efe.jpg

RAMÓN ABARCA AZPIAZU is the Tokyo Bureau Chief of EFE Spanish News Agency. From 1997 to 2002, he was a reporter for Diario de Noticias-La Ley, a weekly publication on legal issues. He became the London correspondent for Telecinco TV in 2003, until he made the move in 2006 to Cuatro TV/CNN+, also as London correspondent. In 2011, he became London correspondent for EFE, where he worked until his posting to Tokyo in Feb. 2013. He has also contributed to El Periodico, Elle, Fotogramas, GQ and other publications.

PROFESSIONAL/JOURNALIST ASSOCIATE MEMBER
Shinichi Ueyama, Keio University

ASSOCIATE MEMBERS
Mariko Watanabe
Masahiko Yamaguchi, Cones Technologies Ltd.
Daisuke Narita, That’s Corporation
Tatsunosuke Tominaga, UPM-Kymmene Japan K.K.

Yoshiaki Takahashi, Royal Liquor & Food Co., (Japan), Ltd.
Toshio Arita, Huawei Technologies Japan K.K.

REINSTATEMENT (ASSOCIATE)
Hiroshi Ishida
Isao Saito, U & IHR Consulting
Norihiko Nishiyama

 

Remembering Ray Falk

 

SKMBT_C652D13092011420.jpg

 

Ray Falk, who was our most senior member, passed away in Tokyo on Friday, Sept. 20, 2013, at the age of 90.

Ray joined the Club in 1946, and became one of the 16 residents in the Club’s first premises, known as No. 1 Shimbun Alley. It remained his home until the change of premises in 1954. Over the years, Ray worked for ABC News and the North American Newspaper Alliance (NANA).

He covered the Korean War for ABC radio news and was present at the signing of the armistice in Panmunjom in July of 1953. In the same capacity, he covered the Matsu and Quemoy crisis in 1958. He was also active in print news for NANA, writing book reviews and commentary that appeared in publications like the New York Times.

Ray served as Club treasurer during the critical years of 1953-1954 preparing for the Club’s move to new premises and its successful bid for the non-profit status known as shadan houjin, bestowed on the Club in November, 1954.

Ray was later made a Life Member and attended Club functions, especially anniversary parties, until health problems made that difficult in recent years.

 

 

Remembering David Coll Blanco 1974 - 2013

 

20100930-Tokyo-0786.jpg

David Coll Blanco, the Catalan photographer who was an FCCJ Member from 2005 to 2007 died on Sept. 6 in his native Barcelona at age 39 after a year-long battle with bronchial cancer. He leaves behind his wife Miwako Uno and daughter Maia, age 5.

Although an FCCJ Member for only a short time, during 10 years in Japan David made many lasting friendships in the Club, and among Tokyo’s international community of press and artistic photographers. He worked extensively with the Tokyo bureaus of European Pressphoto Agency (EPA) and EFE, the Spanish news agency, and freelanced widely. Many FCCJ journalists will fondly recall David’s cheerful presence on assignment.

With the kind assistance of Bruce Osborne and the Exhibition Committee, plans are in progress for an exhibition of David’s life’s work in the Main Bar. One idea is to make the works available for sale, with the proceeds going to young Maia.

 

FOP retooling for a new mission

 

Michael Penn reports on a new service that is being developed
to keep Club journalists on top of the nation’s happenings

 

The new Freedom of the Press Committee is already well along in its first project to improve the news-gathering environment for working journalists at the FCCJ. We are building a Journalist Information Service to better inform our members about media events of interest in the Kanto region.

One way that many foreign journalists are excluded from media events in Japan is that we are not informed about them until after they have occurred. There have been many occasions when I saw a report on Japanese television about an event that I would loved to have covered had I only known about it.

With persistence and experience, many foreign journalists do begin to adapt, eventually missing fewer of the events that they want to cover. But it is still a daily struggle to keep well informed, to know where to be and when to be there, especially as the only journalists being directly tipped to many key events belong to the traditional Japanese press clubs.

To some degree, it will always be the job of individual journalists to discover and cultivate their own sources, but the Journalist Information Service now being fashioned is meant to ensure that the FCCJ becomes a crucial artery through which foreign journalists can gain the information they need to do their jobs more effectively.

Keeping abreast of media events in the vast Kanto region is a full-time job (and then some), so the FCCJ has assigned staff to carry out the work under the guidance of the Freedom of the Press Committee.

The inaugural team leader is Akira Yokota, a longtime staff member at the Club. Yokota is a Tokyo native who went to high school in Saitama Prefecture and joined the FCCJ as an F&B staff member in the mid-1980s. In his almost 30 years of service at our club, he has functioned as a bartender, as dining room staff, in the food procurement section and in operations and banquet planning.

 

The team is calling various organizations,

making contacts with press officers, building databases of

useful information for journalists.

 

Obviously, Yokota was among those FCCJ staff members who were most directly impacted by the decision to outsource our F&B operations. He now works in the Club Office on the 19th floor and had been looking for an important new role to play as the FCCJ changes its structure.

In a way, Yokota is a metaphor for the FCCJ as a whole. Long accustomed to engaging in certain kinds of functions, we are now branching out into new fields in line with our aim to strengthen the public service dimensions of the Club. These are welcome changes, but ones that require us to retool for new missions in an unsleeping electronic era.

Yokota and his small team are calling various organizations, making contacts with press officers, building databases of useful information for journalists. The early stages will by necessity be slow and careful as their training commences and their confidence builds. But the spirit of engaging in an important new enterprise is already beginning to take hold.

FCCJ Members should be able to participate in the Journalist Information Service in a matter of weeks. We already have a prototype version based upon a limited email list functioning now. Once we feel it is ready for wider scrutiny, interested FCCJ Regular Members will be able to sign up to receive the service directly.

This email service will be ultimately be complemented by functions built into the new FCCJ website, though we are still hammering out some of the key policies about technical capabilities, information security and practical management.

Challenges remain, but Yokota believes “there is a new wind blowing at the FCCJ.” Our task now is to ensure that this new wind takes us to a place where every foreign journalist in Tokyo wants to join us.

Michael Penn is president of the Shingetsu News Agency and chairman of the Freedom of the Press Committee

 

Exhibition: The Shine of Kmer Children (1994 - 2010)

 

CB24-17.jpg

These photographs were taken in post-war Cambodia between 1994 and 2010.

We often hear, “Asia is a leader in the 21st century,” but for many Japanese, including myself, awareness of Asia’s very poor has not always been present.

I think that now, with various problems such as ethnic conflict and population growth, it is important to deepen solidarity across Asia. Recognizing the culture of each other will be the cornerstone of building tomorrow.

Baku Saito has been freelancing since 1980. He has exhibited these photographs in Paris, Tokyo, Phnom Penh and elsewhere and has published several books of the photographs.

CB23-29.jpgCB27-36E.jpg

 

Tony Bennett is in the house

 DSC_6099.jpg

 

One of the great jazz voices of all time breaks into song in front of
Julian Ryall and an enthralled Club crowd

 

He may be 87, but Tony Bennett showed that he still knows how to work a crowd when he appeared for a press conference at the FCCJ, just ahead of his headline appearance at the Tokyo Jazz Festival. Asked whether he might treat the packed house to one of his songs as a preview of the festival, Bennett initially declined on the grounds that he is in show business – with the emphasis on “business” – and that the onlookers would just have to come along to the show.

But apparently unable to resist the look of disappointment on FCCJ Member Haruko Watanabe’s face, Bennett broke into the first verse of the song that has defined his long and impressive career, “I left my heart in San Francisco.” Pitch-perfect even when performed at the drop of a hat, it was met by a rousing round of applause.

Bennett was performing in Japan for the first time in 13 years, and a review in The Japan Times of his set at the festival described it as “commanding.” He performed more than 20 numbers, backed by a jazz quartet, including “Fly me to the Moon” and “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” and over-ran his rigidly allocated time by 10 minutes.

 

Sinatra once described Bennett as

"the best singer in the business."

Says Bennett:

"What did he know?"

 

From his earlier comments at the FCCJ, it appears that he still gets as caught up in the moment as when he was a fresh-faced singer emerging into the spotlight alongside such greats as Frank Sinatra and Billie Holiday. Sinatra once described Bennett as “the best singer in the business” – an accolade that the man himself dismissed with a self-depreciating “But what did he know?”

I’m an entertainer,” Bennett replied with a shrug when asked to describe himself. “And I consider myself to have been blessed.

Jazz is funny; it’s not something you can go to school to learn,” he said. “You can study music, of course, but jazz is the art of spontaneity and improvisation. You either have it or you don’t. It’s a gift of an art form and when an artiste performs it well, they are giving it to anybody who cares to listen.”

It was not always easy for Bennett, who served as an infantryman in Europe in the closing stages of World War II before developing his singing techniques and joining Columbia Records. He had his first number one hit – “Because of you” – in 1951.

When I first started, there were a lot of seasoned performers who were resentful of the fact that I was becoming popular,” he said. “They were still nice enough to say, ‘you’re doing alright kid, but it will take you seven years to learn how to walk onto the stage properly.’ They were right, but I always felt they could have been a little nicer to me,” he added.

 

That was one of the motivations for his most recent collaborations, Duets: An American Classic, released in 2006 and followed in 2011 by Duets II. It features the Italian-American veteran from Astoria, New York, performing alongside Michael Buble, Lady Gaga and Amy Winehouse, among others. A new recording, The Classics, is a new collection of 22 of his most famous recordings, while an entire album with Lady Gaga is due to be released around the end of the year.

“I’m one of the elders in the business now, and I did these albums with all these different popular artistes to show to the world that they can do these things, to show that they do not have to be restricted and to show that what I was told – that you have to wait seven years to be famous – is just not true.”

Asked his most memorable experience in his long musical career, Bennett unhesitatingly singled our working with Lady Gaga. “She did ‘The Lady is a Tramp’ with me and it became a big hit,” he said. “I consider Lady Gaga to be the Picasso of the entertainment world. She is very, very intelligent and a very talented person.”

 

"I just love to entertain people.

It keeps me alive and in shape."

 

Their new collaboration will include some works by the great songwriters of Bennett’s generation – Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Irving Berlin – with the support of a big swing band.

But if he was forced to select a personal favorite singer, Bennett opts for Billie Holiday. “She was absolutely the best singer who ever lived,” he said. “Any recording of hers is beautiful. It’s not digital, it’s not multi-track and it’s strictly mono, but boy, it’s timeless. She was exquisite.”

As he approaches his 90th year, Bennett is still in good physical shape and can clearly still command the stage. “I just love to entertain people,” he confessed. “It keeps me alive and it keeps me in shape.

I’m a great fan of the artist Hokusai, who said he was just learning to paint when he turned 102,” he said. “I like that.”

Julian Ryall is the Japan correspondent for The Daily Telegraph.

 

Fall Colors: Peak viewing at Japan's International film festivals


 

Karen Severns reports that it’s the season for film lovers,
with much more on offer than the usual multiplex fare

 

Here’s a figure that may not have snuck up on you: There are almost 3,000 active film festivals in the world, and at least 120 of them take place in Japan.

The industry’s woes may be well publicized, but make no mistake: film is still big business. Although just displaced by China from its long-held No. 2 position, Japan remains the world’s third-largest film market (accounting for $2.4 billion in 2012, just behind China’s $2.7 billion). It is also big diplomacy. With the tense political situation between Japan, China and the Koreas, cultural transactions (“soft power”) like film festivals have become increasingly important to peace and prosperity in the region.

 

 

"Today’s festivals serve the

dual role of propping up diplomatic relations

and buttressing a market in transition."

 

As arthouse cinemas continue to shutter (since 2008, 25 in Tokyo alone), as specialty distributors bite the dust, as government and corporate support for filmmaking shrinks a little more each year, festivals have become the new theatrical run for many films – and for those lucky few, the gateway to awards and commercial success. The current generation of independent filmmakers almost always relies on buzz from the festival circuit to build sustainable careers. So today’s festivals serve the dual role of propping up diplomatic relations and buttressing a market in transition.

 

Japan’s peak festival viewing season is upon us, starting with the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival (Oct. 10 - 17), followed immediately by the Tokyo International Film Festival (Oct. 17 - 25) and a month later by TOKYO FILMeX (Nov. 23 – Dec. 1). Three festivals in just over two months may look like cinematic overload, but each has its own personality, its own thematic focuses, its own stylistic preferences. Yet like most festivals, these three are run by nonprofits facing the same challenges as the filmmakers they support; underfunded, understaffed and overextended, they are held together by indefatigable volunteers, appreciative filmmakers, enthusiastic audiences, a stitch here, a safety pin there.

 

Although their submissions and audience numbers are increasing and they claim to be reaching the holy-grail younger demographic, YIDFF, TIFF and FILMeX are struggling to stay funded, to exploit social media to their advantage, to help get their foreign films distributed in Japan, and to help their Japanese filmmakers find festival berths and sales overseas.

If you’re a film fan – and really, who isn’t? – you don’t need a reminder that festivals can be exhilarating, especially in the (increasingly rare) opportunities they provide to experience other worlds and make transformative discoveries. But now you know they are also essential to discovering and nurturing talent, and to helping assure that tomorrow’s independent cinema has a life outside the living room. So slide into a seat, and make a worthy contribution to Japan’s ongoing cultural and economic vitality.

Here are brief snapshots of the fall festivals, in order of occurrence:

 

YIDFF

YIDFF_poster.jpgAsako_Fujioka_YIDFF_2.jpg

The YIDFF poster and Tokyo Office Director Asako Fujioka

Founded in 1989 as Asia’s first-ever documentary festival to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Yamagata City, YIDFF has been held biennially ever since. Located in the scenic mountains of Yamagata, some 370 km north of Tokyo, the festival screens an eye-popping number of films, hosts several hundred guests, attracts close to 25,000 visitors and still feels intimate.

YIDFF Tokyo Office Director Asako Fujioka celebrates her 20th year with the festival in 2013. “I didn’t give birth to it, but maybe I’m like the surrogate mom,” she laughs. Fujioka joined YIDFF after a childhood spent overseas and an early career in film distribution. The festival was then, as now, a magnet attracting emerging documentarists across Asia. Fujioka attributes this to YIDFF’s many special events and programs highlighting the history and diversity of alternative, independent, nonfiction film. “We’ve chosen not to be on that mad festival circuit, chasing premieres. Other festivals try to bring the biggest names, but our focus is on the films.”

YIDFF 2013 is highlighting work from Southeast Asia in all its sections. Fujioka touts The Ethics Machine: Six Gazes of the Camera, with films and discussions about the ethical choices facing documentarians. “When 3/11 occurred, many Japanese filmmakers began braving taboos,” she says, “but they were too respectful to their subjects, gave them too much distance. This made the films a bit constrained and not very interesting in the end.”

Fujioka is also excited about a 45-film retrospective devoted to Chris Marker, the late French filmmaker who brought us La Jetée, Sans Soleil and AK, an essay film on Akira Kurosawa – which will all be shown at YIDFF. Says Fujioka: “Marker had a strong connection with Japan. He loved it, he made several films here, he had friends here. So to have this retrospective here is very special. We’re doing the largest one up until the huge one at Pompidou Center.”

 

TIFF

TIFF_poster.jpgYasushi_Shiina.jpg

TIFF's poster and Director General Yasushi Shiina

 

TIFF begins its second quarter-century with a new director general, Yasushi Shiina, a shiny new logo, a new slogan (“A films-first festival”) and revamped main sections.

A veteran of Asmik and Kadokawa, Shiina was a member of the TIFF Executive Committee for the past 12 years. After being named to replace the affable Tom Yoda, the popular TIFF chairman from 2008 to 2012, Shiina packed his bag with a vision before moving in.

I’m determined to make TIFF an essential film festival, as it once was,” says Shiina. “To do that, we need to achieve a better balance between commercial and arthouse films, which is difficult. We need to raise our artistic profile without compromising on our selections.”

Shiina is also considering other improvements. “We’re very grateful for Mori Building’s support,” he says, “but Roppongi only has seven screens, and that’s not enough. We’re looking at opportunities in Yurakucho, Hibiya and Nihonbashi, so we can expand the number of screens. And there’s also the separation of TIFF and TIFFCOM, which will be in Odaiba again for the second year. The festival and market should be together; it’s not convenient this way. Another issue is timing: November doesn’t have to be the only choice.”

Shiina promises that TIFF is shifting its focus back to the filmmakers themselves, and he’s eager to make animé a major focus of the festival. “Animated films earn a lot more at the Japanese box office than live-action movies,” he says, “and there’s global attention on animation. I would like to bring together Japanese and Asian talent to encourage collaboration.” The 2013 festival lineup* will also include more homegrown productions, with Japanese films to be featured in every section.

One more change that Shiina feels will particularly please Number 1 Shimbun readers: “We are planning a new program especially for international audiences and film journalists, and we’re improving our previous system for the press, modeling it after the Cannes Film Festival’s.”

 

FILMeX

FILMEX_poster.jpgkanako_Hayashi_Filmex2.jpg

Tokyo FILMeX poster and Kanako Hayashi

 

From its launch in 2000, TOKYO FILMeX had a special brief: to offer serious films for cinephiles and cineastes. Supported by “Beat” Takeshi Kitano’s office, its driving force is Kanako Hayashi, an international film festival veteran who spent 11 years promoting Japanese films overseas, and consulted for the Venice and Berlin film festivals.

During the festival run, she is a familiar figure in the Asahi Hall lobby, where she meets, greets and presides over introductions after every screening. “Our most important role is building bridges between filmmakers and their audiences, and between Japan and the world,” she says.

Hayashi is proud of the festival’s consistent lineups: “At most festivals, the opening and closing films are just fireworks to attract crowds and the media, appetizers to impress the sponsors. FILMeX has to start right in with the main course, so we can only accommodate spectacular films. We cannot compromise on the selection.”

Despite having to watch close to 1,000 films, that selection is made solely by Hayashi and Program Director Shozo Ichiyama. She explains: “I can’t afford to miss any diamonds in the rough before they get polished. As long as there is clearly talent, I watch them all.”

FILMeX 2013* will include 10 competition films, 10 special screenings and a Japanese Classics section featuring films by Noboru Nakamura, a twice-nominated Academy Award contender whose career at Shochiku extended from 1941 thru 1979. “He was known as the Great Conductor,” says Hayashi. “He worked with composer Toru Takemitsu, editor Keiichi Uraoka, and actors like Keiko Kishi, Isuzu Yamada and Mariko Okada. Nakamura is not well known internationally, but he deserves to be.”

Serious about its commitment to the “Bright Future of Cinema,” FILMeX features a student jury, conducts workshops to “educate and encourage the next generation,” and will be bringing 15 emerging filmmakers to participate in its 3rd Talent Campus Tokyo, for “insider” sessions with industry veterans and coaching by famous mentors.

 

*TIFF and FILMeX unveiled their full lineups after we went to press. For more, see their websites, and the Movie Committee’s blog at fccj.ne.jp.

Karen Severns is a writer, filmmaker and educator who lectures widely on film and architecture.

 

Profile: David McNeill

DSC_6064.jpg

Lucy Alexander contributes to our series of Club Member profiles.

Dr. David McNeill is a very post-modern political journalist. A super-stringer for multiple media outlets, he also teaches undergraduates about the politics of the media. McNeill is a professional deconstructor of his own profession. Only he wouldn't call journalism a profession – to him it is “a trade.” If it is possible to be a consummate professional at a trade, then McNeill is one.

He traces his interest in journalism to a move from his hometown of Dublin to Clones, on the border with Northern Ireland, when he was 15. “Clones is the kind of place that politicizes you,” he says. It was 1981, the year of the hunger strikes, when 10 republican paramilitary prisoners in Belfast starved themselves to death, making global headlines. McNeill, 48, recalls “the shock of seeing boys my age arguing politics with priests during catechism classes. That was unheard of.”

The result was a political awakening. “This was around the time that [Margaret] Thatcher came to power, and there was a ‘shoot to kill’ policy. All those things were very important for learning how to question the world around us. That was a big reason why I went into journalism.”

McNeill duly applied to study journalism after leaving school, but failed to get a place because, he says, the college didn’t agree with his political opinions. “I found out because the interview board all ate at my aunt’s restaurant,” he said. “That’s Ireland for you.”


 
"After five years, frustrated by academic life,
he moved to Tokyo
and decided to try his hand at journalism" 


 
After a brief period training to be a chef (“I got kicked out”), McNeill returned home and worked in a sausage factory. He ran a mobile disco in the evenings with his best friend, who, in 1987, decided to emigrate to the United States, “a very common story in Ireland in the Eighties.” He said, “I had to choose whether or not to stay in this factory and marry a local girl. I said no.”

McNeill won a place as a mature student at the University of Ulster, studying a liberal arts degree. He chose an Asian Studies component and became fascinated by Japan, visiting Tokyo in 1993. “I thought it was a sociological miracle. You have probably the world’s biggest group of commuters, most of them men, in crowded trains. Put that together on a Friday night with overwork and alcohol… If that were in Ireland they’d kill each other.”

McNeill returned to the UK to complete a PhD, and in 1995 took a job teaching media and politics at Liverpool John Moores University. After five years, frustrated by academic life, he moved to Tokyo and decided to try his hand at journalism. He got a job copy-editing for the Nikkei, his first and last experience on a newspaper staff payroll. “I swear it was like a living death. Going to work on the train every day in total silence, going into an office where no joking was allowed, then doing it all over again in the evening. I gave it up as soon as I could.”

In 2003, McNeill began stringing for the Independent and Irish Times newspapers, and has since added The Chronicle of Higher Education and The Economist to his portfolio, supplemented by scriptwriting for NHK World and university teaching – “Sophia in the autumn and Hosei in the spring." Then there’s the book, Strong in the Rain, published in 2012, an acclaimed collection of survivor stories from the 2011 triple disaster, co-authored with FCCJ president Lucy Birmingham. 

McNeill considers this alarming range of responsibilities a necessary strategy in a freelance market that is “badly paid, and getting worse.” Over time, he has become resigned to the Western appetite for Japanese “color stories.” Fabricated tales of schoolgirl eyeball-licking are part of a well-established trend, he says, recalling a 2007 story about “Japanese women buying lambs thinking they were poodles.” (“Ewe’ve been conned,” was the headline in The Sun.)


 
Journalism is “the greatest job,
but one of the worst paid.” 


He points out that the Japanese press is just as guilty, citing an old story in Josei Seven magazine which stated that Princess Masako “was fleeing Japan with her daughter to claim refugee status in Europe, aided by her old professor in Oxford who was sponsoring her under UN legislation against cruel and unusual punishment.” McNeill rang the professor, who had been quoted in the article: “she knew absolutely nothing about it.” When he got hold of the journalist who wrote the article, “he said, ‘Oh, that was a made-up story.’ He wasn’t embarrassed about it.”
 
McNeill, who now has a two-year-old son, has decided he is working too hard. “Apart from just not being fair on your partner, I resent the time I’m not with my son.” Life in Japan is unlikely to be a permanent arrangement, he says. “But then Japan is full of gaijin who say they’re not going to be here forever.”

To McNeill, journalism is “the greatest job, but one of the worst paid.” He believes “we are seeing a historic realignment of the old order, and nobody knows what’s going to come next. Maybe it will coalesce into something that pays a living wage, but for now it’s really hard to see that happening.”

Despite this pessimism, he is passionate about the intrinsic moral value of political reporting, a lesson learned long ago on the Ulster border. What truly matters, he says, is “a passion for what it means to be a journalist, to get a story out and tell people about something like Fukushima, to believe you can make a difference and change things?”

Lucy Alexander is a freelance journalist and correspondent for The Times.


The load of the rings

01_Olympic_Stadium.jpg

The new National Stadium will look like someone sat on a bicycle helmet. 

 

Fred Varcoe says Oh crap! We’ve got the Olympics.
Hang out the bunting. It’s a good thing, right?

 

In the days following Tokyo’s successful bid to host the 2020 Olympic Games, media reports in Japan reminded people here of the cost of the March 11, 2011, earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster. Over 16,000 people died with more than 2,000 still missing, presumed dead. The dead won’t benefit from the Olympics, but the living are still struggling to benefit from the world’s generosity following the disaster. Nearly 300,000 people in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures are still living in temporary housing. At this rate, the Olympic athletes will have accommodation before the disaster-affected homeless of Tohoku.

But while the shadow of Fukushima hung over the vote, it has to be remembered that it was a vote on Tokyo – not Fukushima and not Japan. The Olympic Games are awarded to a city, not an area or a country, so the response from Tsunekazu Takeda, the head of Tokyo’s Olympic bid, made sense: “Radiation levels in Tokyo are still the same as in London, New York and Paris.”

 

"The 1964 Olympics served as a symbolic

reintegration of Japan into the civilized world."

 

Having won the Games, Tokyo can now, hopefully, detach itself from the worries of Fukushima. Winning the Games is a cause for celebration, for both Japan and Tokyo. Japan’s and Tokyo’s history with the event has had its ups and downs.

Tokyo was first awarded the 1940 Summer Olympic Games but that was derailed by World War II. You might wonder what the International Olympic Committee was thinking awarding successive Games (Berlin hosted in 1936) to two belligerent, war-mongering states.

 

The IOC remembered Tokyo – and curiously forgot all about the war – when it awarded the city the 1964 Games (Tokyo also bid for the 1960 Games, which went to Rome instead). And while some might have wanted to punish Japan for its conduct pre-1945 – notably China and the two Koreas, who were still politically alienated from Japan – the 1964 Olympics served as a symbolic reintegration of Japan into the civilized world. And the country responded with a dynamic, high-tech celebration and a completely restructured city. Though North Korea boycotted, Japan’s only hint of politicking came when the Olympic Flame was lit by runner Yoshinori Sakai, who was born in Hiroshima the day the Americans wiped it out with an atomic bomb.

Japan got another Olympics eight years later when Sapporo hosted the Winter Games, and the country hosted the Winter Games again in 1998 in Nagano. With the 2020 Games, Japan will have hosted four Olympic Games, third overall and second-most – behind the United States – in the postwar era.

While the Winter Games carry a certain amount of prestige, Japan has been chasing the Summer Games for some time. Nagoya was stunned when it lost out to Seoul for the 1988 Games as the IOC opted to send the event to a country ruled by murderous dictator Chun Doo Hwan just a year after he had ordered the slaughter of hundreds, maybe thousands, of civilians in the southern city of Kwangju.

Of course, the selection of the host city has often been troubled by the exchange of favors and cash. A number of Olympic host cities (Salt Lake City, anyone?) have been accused of excessive “generosity” – including Nagano whose records mysteriously went up in flames. In recent years, the IOC has cleaned up its act by making changes to the bidding process, allowing its voters to concentrate on the merits of the bidding cities rather than the perks of their positions.

 

For the 2016 summer games, the Japan Olympic Committee decided to go with Tokyo rather than Fukuoka. Tokyo responded with an impressive, beautiful bid that earned the top rating from the IOC after the initial evaluation of the bidding cities. Tokyo’s advantages were clearly superior to those of its rivals (Rio de Janeiro, Madrid and Chicago), claiming it could provide “the most compact and efficient Olympic Games ever.” But when the votes came in, Tokyo was third in the first two rounds and was eliminated behind Rio and Madrid; the latter in turn was trumped by the allure of Brazil and the attraction of seeing the Games in South America for the first time.

 

 

"Abe shut the door on the

horrors of Fukushima with his

glib pronouncement

“there’s nothing to see there"

 

 

So what changed for this year’s selection process? Bids from Rome, Baku and Doha were eliminated early on, leaving Tokyo, Madrid and Istanbul. All three had been persistent in their attempts to host. (Madrid had actually won the first vote for 2016.)

All had their own major attractions. Madrid presented a very economical bid and was attractively placed globally for the important broadcasting zones of Europe and the Americas. Istanbul had similar momentum to Rio in that the Games could be held in a new area, a different (Muslim) culture and in a city that straddles Europe and Asia. Tokyo, meanwhile, had the money, the technology and the best layout for the Games. They all had something going for them.

But the news over the past year hit them all hard. The economic crisis really started to bite in Spain, which saw unemployment reach 25 percent. And some saw Madrid’s $2 billion budget – half that of Tokyo’s – as a sign of weakness. Olympic budgets invariably double, so there were also worries about whether Madrid would be able to keep up the payments. Spain probably led in the affability stakes with Prince Felipe and Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr., the erudite son of the former head of the IOC. But it was obvious that Madrid’s presentable façade hid a weak foundation.

Istanbul’s budget was a whopping $19 billion, which instantly raised red flags. Imagine that doubling. Voters also worried about the infrastructure, as everything would have to be built. Still, that may not have proved fatal until a wave of riots hit the city in the months leading up to the vote, in addition to the civil war in neighboring Syria.

Fukushima definitely spread a cloud of doubt over Japan but, unlike the crises in Spain and Turkey, the problem hasn’t yet directly affected the bidding city. And Tokyo did an admirable job of learning from previous mistakes.

 

Bids need an emotional tone, and faces that click with the IOC delegates. The bid for 2016 was seen as spectacular from a technological point of view, drab from an emotional one. The push by then PM Yuko Hatoyama and then-governor Shintaro Ishihara were limp at best; the message seemed to be nothing more than “We build good cars.”

Ishihara’s successor as governor, Naoki Inose, wasn’t a great improvement and made a couple of serious gaffes earlier this year, but he didn’t carry Ishihara’s baggage. And, surprisingly, even Abe came over as a likeable chap in his presentation – made in much better English than Hatoyama’s.

As Abe shut the door on the horrors of Fukushima with his glib pronouncement “there’s nothing to see there,” paralympic athlete Mami Sato, also speaking in understandable English, opened the door to the emotions of the earthquake and tsunami, recounting how she spent six days wondering if her family in Miyagi were dead or alive. Sato emphasized how Japanese athletes had embodied the Olympic spirit with countless visits to those affected by the disaster – and voila! . . . Tokyo’s bid had its emotional connection. Following a good speech in English by Olympic fencing medallist Yuki Ota, Tokyo got two delightful speeches in French from HIH Princess Takamado and former news presenter Christel Takigawa.

In the end, the mere possibility of disaster/Armageddon trumped the ongoing problems elsewhere. Madrid lost the runoff from the first round after tying with Istanbul; Tokyo overwhelmed Istanbul in the final, 60 to 36 (and embarrassing the editors of this magazine, who seemed to believe – in last June’s issue – that the spectre of Inose and Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto would sink the Tokyo bid).

For further reasons for Tokyo’s win, insiders point as well to a well-oiled PR campaign that launched its candidature in London, riding the coattails of a country still buzzing from its own wildly successful Olympics. It also campaigned strongly on the domestic front after the IOC had taken a dim view of support figures for 2016 that showed less than half of Tokyo’s population supported the bid. Of course, half of 35 million is still rather a lot, but the perception was negative and had to be put right. One of the major breakthroughs was the post-London Olympics parade of medallists through Ginza, which attracted half a million people and put the feel-good factor back into Tokyo. An IOC poll saw public support at 70 percent at the beginning of this year and a government poll saw that figure rise to 92 percent 10 days before the vote.

So what does it mean for Tokyo and Japan?

 

"If Tokyo wants to live up to its promises in 2020,

it need look no further than 1964."

 

From a sporting point of view, the Olympics represent the ultimate goal for many athletes and a home Olympics focuses and intensifies their aim. The host country usually increases the number of athletes and the number of medals. In the 2012 games, for example, Britain fielded 541 athletes for 65 medals and 29 golds, whereas in 2008, it won 19 golds and 47 medals overall with 313 athletes.

But there are other very visible results, like the transformation that Tokyo underwent prior to the 1964 games. The Olympics provided the impetus to get things done as Tokyo placed priority on improving infrastructure that would assist the Games, including “road, harbour, waterworks development on a considerable scale over a significant area of the city and its environs.” Tokyo venues such as the National Stadium (soon to be rebuilt), Komazawa Sports Park and Yoyogi Gymnasium are still being used today.

 

If Tokyo wants to live up to its promises in 2020, it need look no further than 1964. Avery Brundage, the president of the IOC in 1964, was fulsome in his praise: “No country has ever been so thoroughly converted to the Olympic movement. … Every difficulty had been anticipated and the result was as near perfection as possible. Even the most callous journalists were impressed, to the extent that one veteran reporter named them the “Happy” Games. This common interest served to submerge political, economic and social differences and to provide an objective shared by all the people of Japan. … The success of this enterprise provided a tremendous stimulus to the morale of the entire country.”

Tokyo has just taken the first step. It has a lot of promises to live up to, but it also has a past to learn from. Perhaps it will lead to regeneration on a broader scale. As Olympic host and capital city, it has a responsibility to do things right. What could possibly go wrong?

Fred Varcoe is a freelance writer based in Chiba and has written about sports for The Japan Times, the Japan Football Association, UPI, Reuters, dpa, The Daily Telegraph, Sky Sports News, Golf International, Volleyball World, the International Volleyball Federation, Time Out and others.

 

Can a 4kg, 1400-page report change a country?

 kurokawa5.jpg

Kurokawa, holding the report, in his Tokyo office.

 

Dr. Kiyoshi Kurokawa,  leader of an effort to bring accountability to the Fukushima nuclear accident, looks back at the effects of the historic report

 

On July 6, 2012, I was to appear before a crowd of journalists at the FCCJ to announce the delivery to Japan’s National Diet of the report by the Diet’s own Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission (NAIIC). I was tired but pleased. It was the first such commission in the history of democratic Japan, and the completion of the report – a short six months after receiving our mandate – was the result of sometimes frantic but always incredible efforts made by my assembled team of experts.

Although the reaction of the Diet legislators was (not unexpectedly) rather cool when I had handed over the report the previous day, my team was extremely proud of the depth of the report. I was looking forward to the press conference because the commission had received a lot of attention from the global media. We had been surprised by the number of journalists that attended the many commission hearings and press briefings (which vindicated our decision to avoid the normal Japanese “press club” system, and to include simultaneous interpreting).

At the press conference, much was made by some journalists of the differences in the global version as opposed to the Japanese version, especially the statement about the accident being an incident “made in Japan”— my attribution of the causes of the accident to some of the conventions of Japanese culture. But those who read the Japanese version carefully, I believe, found the same conclusions and the same nuance.

Thanks to the global media, and the world-wide public interest in the shocking accident, our commission’s report turned out to be highly valued overseas. Not only was the media coverage extensive, but the scientific community took notice. I (as leader of the team) was awarded the AAAS Scientific Freedom and Responsibility Award by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. I also humbly accepted being called one of the “100 Global Thinkers” by Foreign Policy magazine. 

 

"There was no response at all by Tepco

or anyone else in the nuclear industry

despite all of our detailed critical analysis

of their actions"

 

But while accolades are always appreciated, they were not the intention behind our report. We believed that exposing loose governance and lack of vigilance by the Japanese authorities and Tepco would galvanize the various arms of the nuclear “village” in Japan to rethink their way of operating. We also believed that it would help gain trust from the rest of the world by showing Japan’s determination to deal with the disaster.

Unfortunately, although the report has now been in the hands of the Diet, the press and the general public for some 14 months, I’m afraid that it’s hard to be optimistic.

 

Most of the Japanese public doesn’t understand the importance of checks and balances in a democratic government with three branches. So there’s little public pressure on the government for prompt action.

That leaves the government free to move at its own sluggish pace, even in moments of crisis. The commission didn’t receive our mandate until nine months after the accident. Then after our delivery six months later, it took another nine months for the first response to the seven recommendations that we made.

Just half of one recommendation – to set up a Diet committee to supervise nuclear regulation – was adopted by the lower house. On April 8, 2013, and nine of our ten commissioners appeared at eight hours of hearings held by the newly created Special Committee for Investigation of Nuclear Power Issues. With the LDP in power now, we understand that acceptance of our recommendations has become even more political.

And that’s pretty much been it so far.

There was no response at all by Tepco or anyone else in the nuclear industry despite all of our detailed critical analysis of their actions leading up to and following the accident. In other words, the problems we highlighted in the report have yet to even be acknowledged, much less dealt with.

 

"Curiously, the Japanese media has also lost its courage,

with less and less critical coverage"

 

I had hoped that what made our commission such a success – the commitment to openness, transparency and global awareness – might have some affect on the way the nuclear elite did business. But it is now impossible to believe that the situation is getting any better, and the state of the Fukushima Nuclear Plant is a case in point. The briefings on the situation by Tepco are indecipherable. They don’t even try to make themselves understood, by either the Japanese public or the international community. Their statements always seem to imply that they think this is all someone else’s problem that landed on their plate purely by accident.

The information from the central government is also opaque, as are their plans for future handling of the crisis. It’s fine for our prime minister to extol the safety of the country in front of the world, but we would hope he could back up his claims with scientific proof.

Curiously, the Japanese media has also lost its courage, with less and less critical coverage. (Tokyo Shimbun has been a rare exception, with fair and timely reporting on relevant issues.) This has left the people of the nation without a voice. Even if a journalist has information of critical importance, he rarely divulges it for fear of endangering his job or position. This deception is counter-productive and will only lead to a loss of faith from the international community. I wish the Japanese press would pressure the government and Tepco the same way that the foreign press tries to do.

 

In the midst of these immovable barriers of the present system that seem to heighten the difficulties faced in this nuclear disaster, I still find moments of hope, and several came directly as a result of the NAIIC commission.

They came from people who have gone through a dramatic change in their careers after participating in work at the NAIIC. One of them is Tsuyoshi Shiina, who went on to become a Diet member, and is a member of the Diet committee on nuclear oversight mentioned above. Another is Satoshi Ishibashi, a senior team manager who launched a project with a team of dedicated young people called, “The Simplest Explanation of the National Diet of Japan Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission.” It’s a website that intends to make all the complicated scientific discoveries made by the commission understandable to the general public. It’s an excellent resource, and has recently added a series of videos that illustrates the findings in a very visual, simple way. It’s only in Japanese, but an English version is now being produced.

Yurina Aikawa is another of our team who actually left behind a budding career in order to join NAIIC. She had been working at one of Japan’s major papers, doing research on the nuclear accident, before she came to us. After the commission was dissolved, I asked her about her plans; she told me that she was going to continue her research on the victims of the disaster on her own. I had been surprised at her leaving her newspaper career to join us, and I was even more moved with this decision.

In August, the results of her research were published in a report – titled Hinan Jakusha (“The vulnerable evacuees”) – that documents the experiences of many victims whose fates are out of their control. It is an excellent, powerful book and I was pleased to be able to write a comment for it.

 

“Accountability,” in fact, has more weight

than the word “responsibility” –

except in Japan, it seems.

 

Individuals like Shiina, Ishibashi and Aikawa are helping to make sure that the nuclear accident and its victims remain on the nation’s agenda. Given the recent political and social climate, this is not easy to do. But as much as I hail their efforts, they do not in any way excuse the continued floundering by everyone involved in the governmental and industrial efforts since this crisis began.

At a lecture at the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS) earlier this year, I pointed out how the meaning of the word “accountability” has been lost in its translation to Japanese. I explained that in Japanese, accountability is translated as “the responsibility to explain,” rather than the true meaning, which is “the responsibility to carry out the duty one has been given.” “Accountability,” in fact, has more weight than the word “responsibility” – except in Japan, it seems. But that has to end. We need to hold those responsible to account.

In the NAIIC report, accountability makes up a large part of our recommendations, though they are largely, and unfortunately, ignored. And since I believe that our recommendations would go a long way in not only helping us get beyond the present situation but would actually help us learn from it, I’m going to repeat them.

What we still need is an independent international committee, committed to scientific principles and transparency, that will come up with solutions to the problem and make proposals to the government, which in turn will make decisions and execute these solutions. We need a plan of action that deals with the mid- and long-term plans of the Fukushima disaster, and we need it to be shared with the world.

Independence, transparency, public disclosure, adherence to scientific principles and an international approach are a must as a first step towards the recovery of trust in this globalized age.

It is because of these factors that NAIIC was so highly respected and earned the trust of the global community. There is an urgent need for the public to understand this – and to demand the same from their government and all the other parties to the nuclear accident in Fukushima who betrayed them.

Kiyoshi Kurokawa is Academic Fellow at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS): www.grips.ac.jp/en/. He blogs at www.kiyoshikurokawa.com/en/. 

The entire NAIIC report is available online in English from the National Diet Library archives HERE


 

The state of the [nuclear] nation

FUKU101.jpg

A construction worker in front of the water storage facilities at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant, June 2013

 

 

Justin McCurry reports: the local press may be nuclear-weary, but the state of Fukushima is still a hot topic at the FCCJ dais

 

Two-and-a-half years after it suffered a triple meltdown, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant is again making international headlines.

For the many FCCJ correspondents who have covered the Fukushima crisis, the belated admission in August by the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), that as much as 300 tons of groundwater was seeping from the plant into the Pacific Ocean every day evoked memories of the utility’s secretive, haphazard response in the immediate aftermath of the March 2011 disaster.

Then came the revelation that some of the 1,000 or so hastily constructed tanks storing contaminated water at the site had sprung leaks, sending radiation levels soaring in the immediate vicinity. Those affected by the world’s worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl in 1986, meanwhile, could only watch on in horror.

Plans to resume trial catches of a small number of marine species along the Fukushima coast were put on hold for a month – although they resumed days before the No. 1 Shimbun went to press – as slim hopes that the worst of the crisis had passed turned to anger and consternation. With the focus on Tepco’s incompetence, for a while it seemed that the 160,000 people evacuated from their homes more than two years ago had ceased to exist.

 

"Utilities are aware that they stand

little chance of resuming nuclear energy production

without the support of nearby communities."

 

The water leaks are a definite setback to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as he seeks the early restart of more than a dozen reactors – a move he claims is essential if Japan’s fledgling economic recovery is to stay the course. Then the September closure of Oi nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture, Japan’s last working reactor, left the country without nuclear power for only the second time in more than 40 years.

Abe and other supporters of nuclear restarts accept that none of the country’s 50 working reactors will go back online before the end of the year. While local approval is not a legal requirement for putting reactors back online, utilities are aware that they stand little chance of resuming nuclear energy production at safety-approved reactors without the support of nearby communities.

In August and September, the FCCJ hosted a number of key figures involved in the debates over the environmental crisis unfolding at Fukushima Daiichi, the plant’s long-term future, and the push to restart nuclear reactors in other parts of the country.

 

The NRA's Shunichi Tanaka

 

One speaker who will help determine the future of Japan’s energy nuclear industry is Shunichi Tanaka, chairman of the country’s Nuclear Regulation Authority. In an address at the Club in early September, Tanaka said he was “aware” of the anxiety the Fukushima nuclear accident had caused in the international community, and agreed with critics that Tepco had failed to properly monitor leaky storage tanks.

Tanaka, who has pulled few punches in his criticism of Tepco, played down the dangers the recent radiation spikes – which were the highest since March 2011 – posed to the health of plant workers and the surrounding environment. He insisted, too, that any decision to release contaminated water into the ocean would be taken only after it had been treated to reduce radioactivity to internationally accepted levels.

His chief criticism of Tepco on this occasion was that its ill-considered description of radiation releases over the summer had caused unnecessary alarm overseas. “What Tepco is talking about is the level of contamination,” Tanaka said. “So to describe it with the unit ‘millisieverts per hour’ is scientifically unacceptable. It’s like describing how much something weighs by using centimetres.”

He said Tepco should have used the unit becquerel, which signifies the radioactivity levels in the water itself rather than the potential human exposure levels. “I have come to think they need to be spoon-fed,” Tanaka said of the embattled utility. “It is regrettable that Tepco has caused confusion and fear in the international community by spreading misleading information.”

 

“I have come to think they need to be spoon-fed,”

Tanaka said of Tepco.

 

Several months of mishaps at Fukushima Daiichi have added to concern that Tepco is unable to handle the water crisis, as well as an unprecedented decommissioning process that is expected to last at least four decades.

PM Abe, among others, believes that Tepco should be more willing to accept outside help. Critics of the utility have doubts that a spirit of openness will turn the decommissioning operation into a genuinely international affair, but recent reports suggest that the utility – now resigned to more government interference in its operations – may have to swallow its pride and accept help from France and Russia, among others.

 

Jaczko and Tsutsui state their case

 

According to Gregory Jaczko, former head of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), Tepco and Japan’s nuclear regulation authorities might have prevented the water crisis from spiraling out of control had they acted more quickly after consulting their counterparts in the U.S. in the immediate aftermath of the accident.

Jaczko, who spoke at the FCCJ in late September, said that U.S. and Japanese officials were aware very early on that leaks would pose a risk after huge quantities of water were used to cool molten fuel. “It’s been known for a long time that this would be an issue,” he said. “My biggest surprise is to some extent how it’s been allowed to deteriorate… and how it’s almost become a surprise again that there are contamination problems, that there is leakage out into the sea.”

Jaczko, who resigned from the NRC last year, described the situation at Fukushima Daiichi as an “ongoing challenge rather than a crisis” but added that those challenges, including the safe storage of contaminated water, were “unprecedented.”

The contamination at Fukushima is very different from radiological events that have happened before,” he said. “Re-criticality does not appear to be a concern, but the need to continually provide cooling water is in itself creating an environmental problem. There is no solution that will make this go away tomorrow. Water will have to be pumped into the reactors for years, until it is possible to cool them with air.”

 

“My biggest surprise is . . . how it’s been allowed to deteriorate."

 

On the future of nuclear power in Japan, Jaczko was unequivocal, if ambitious. “We need to think about safety in a completely new way, so that it can’t lead to evacuations or land contamination. It is time to completely remove the possibility of accidents with a complete rethink of nuclear technology and the reactors themselves. One hundred years from now, I would like to see a Japan that doesn’t have to deal with nuclear risks.”

His co-speaker, Tetsuro Tsutsui, a member of the Citizens’ Commission on Nuclear Energy’s sub-committee on Nuclear Regulation, had some practical advice for Tepco.

Citing concern over the cost and feasibility of building an “ice wall” around the Fukushima reactors, Tsutsui, a former mechanical engineer and construction manager at petrochemical plants, suggested building an underground barrier in the hills behind Fukushima Daiichi to prevent groundwater from reaching the rectors below. The removal of spent fuel and toxic water should proceed as planned, he added.

Then we propose that the water-cooling of the damaged reactor cores should continue until the decay heat is reduced sufficiently for natural air circulation.” The reactors, he said, should then be encased in a concrete sarcophagus, Chernobyl style.

Said Tsutsui, “Our solution relies on proven, conventional methods that can be implemented faster and with fewer obstacles” than the time-consuming and potentially dangerous plan to remove molten fuel preferred by Tepco and the Japanese government.

 

Niigata's Izumida does a U-turn as

Tokaimura's Murakami stands firm


After limping through the most ignominious few months since the triple meltdown, Tepco has been given cause for guarded optimism from an unlikely source. In late September, the governor of Niigata, Hirohiko Izumida, a fierce critic of the utility, approved the firm’s plan to seek safety approval ahead of the possible restart of two reactors at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa, the world’s biggest nuclear power plant.

Izumida, who had slammed Tepco during an appearance at the FCCJ in late August, said this week: “Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant may be halted but it is a living facility, and safety must be ensured at the plant.” He vowed to withhold judgement on restarting the plant. But approval would be a significant step forward for Tepco, as restarting all seven Kashiwazaki-Kariwa reactors would allow it to make huge savings on fossil fuels every month.

But other local leaders remain steadfast in their opposition to all nuclear restarts, a stance consistently supported by a slight majority in public opinion polls. Among them is Tatsuya Murakami, the recently retired mayor of Tokaimura, whose uranium processing plant was the scene of a criticality accident in September 1999 in which two workers died and hundreds of residents were exposed to radiation.

 

"[Nuclear technology] exports are unethical,

and the government

should stop this shameful behaviour.”

 

Of the village’s 20 assembly members, eight are opposed to the restart of the Tokai No. 2 nuclear power plant, 10 want it restarted, and two have yet to decide, Murakami said during a speech at the FCCJ. “According to an Ibaraki University study, just over 50 percent of Tokaimura residents do not want the plant to be restarted,” he said, adding that the village had not conducted its own survey.

Murakami, who retired as mayor in late September, is clear about his stance. The threat of accidents and terrorist attacks means the safety of nuclear power plants can never be guaranteed, he said. “My point is that nuclear power plants themselves are dangerous. If a missile were to be aimed at one, we could do nothing about it, and there is no discussion in Japan right now about how you could stop a terrorist attack – not that I think its possible to do so.

My point is that, because nuclear plants are inherently dangerous, and because there is nothing you can do to protect them if someone is determined to harm them, we have to get rid of them,” he stated. “By having nuclear power plants, you put yourself in a very dangerous situation.”

Murakami blasted Abe’s recent overseas missions to sell Japanese nuclear technology as “unethical” and “shameful,” given that there is still disagreement over the cause and effect of the Fukushima accident. “Many Fukushima residents are still displaced, and we don’t know what’s going to happen to Fukushima in the future,” he said. “I don’t think Japan is qualified to export nuclear power infrastructure. Such exports are unethical, and the government should stop this shameful behaviour.”

When nuclear accidents occurred at Three Mile Island in 1979, and in Chernobyl in in 1986, “we were told such accidents would never happen in Japan," Murakami said. “I think it showed our overconfidence and egotism.”

Justin McCurry is the Japan and Korea correspondent for the Guardian and Observer newspapers in London and Japan correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor. He also writes for the Lancet medical journal and reports for France 24 TV.

 

Blessed in Bangkok

 Gwen Robinson on why the Thai capital is the best location for an Asian-based correspondent

 

THE TRAFFIC STILL SUCKS.
The names are as unpronounceable – and unspellable – as ever.
The opium warlords have long died out and the spooks have moved on to more conspiratorial pastures. Even the old guerrilla conflicts across Thailand’s borders have for the most part calmed down, while the nasty regimes – notably the one in Myanmar – have metamorphized into beacons of democratic reform: well, at least, most of them are trying to

But Thailand – and more specifically, Bangkok – remains an ideal base for Asia correspondents, as I realized when I returned to live here in late 2011 after 22 years away.

As a story in its own right, Thailand is not the center of intrigue and danger it was in the swashbuckling 1980s: your heart sinks when an editor wants an analysis of  Thai politics or farmer protests over the Thai rice subsidy scheme. How to make it interesting when even explaining the rice scheme, or the clash between yellow and red shirts and the military over the Thai constitution, takes hundreds of words? And natural disasters are huge but grim stories to cover, as many Bangkok-based correspondents found from the 2007 Southeast Asian tsunami.

 

"The nightclubs of Patpong seethed with shady characters 

and correspondents (frequently one and the same)

exchanging information and making contacts.

 

 Beyond Thai politics and natural disasters, the big stories for a Bangkok-based correspondent are different now – it’s all about “ASEAN connectivity,” China’s strategic moves, the opening of Myanmar and rising economic activity in Thailand, Vietnam and neighboring countries.

Back in the late 1980s, life was somewhat wilder. Journalists sneaked across borders to cover guerrilla conflict in Cambodia, ethnic Karen fighters in Myanmar or opium wars in the northwest. Vast refugee camps sprawled along both borders. Everyone was on “coup watch” and Myanmar monitoring in Bangkok, and the nightclubs of Patpong seethed with shady characters and correspondents (frequently one and the same) exchanging information and making contacts.

Wong’s, off Sathorn Road, the legendary all-night dive that drew journalists far and wide in the Vietnam War era, is still going. But like the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand, now housed in comfortably tatty premises on top of the Maneeya Center after downgrading from the Dusit Thani hotel, it’s not what it used to be.

Even so, the old club – just like Wong’s – can still draw a crowd on a Friday night, or for the occasional press event and the FCCT annual ball.

 

Among other compelling reasons to choose Bangkok:

1) Logistics: The city is still an Asian hub, having cleverly capitalized on the rise of no-frills travel to establish a two-airport dynamic that herds all the budget airlines into the old Don Muang terminal. You can fly Yangon-Bangkok return for as little as 4,000 baht (about $130), and it takes just 55 minutes. New intriguing routes include Bangkok to Mae Sot and onwards to the old colonial port town of Mawlamyine in eastern Myanmar, until July only reachable by road from Yangon.

2) Costs: Unlike some places where correspondents still convince editors they’re in hardship posts while laughing into their mojitos, Bangkok’s attractions as a relatively cheap and pleasant base are no secret. Prices have risen for many key things. But its worth noting you can still get a bowl of noodles for $1, a Thai massage for $10 and that property rentals are still amazing value compared to the eye-watering prices in Hong Kong, Singapore and even Yangon. A large, two-bedroom apartment in central Bangkok can be had for as little as $700 to $1,000 per month.

 

"Thai food, if you’re a fan, is unbeatable

whether it’s a simple bowl of spicy noodles 

or sumptuous multi-course meals."

 

3) Lifestyle: The “Yuppification” of Bangkok is transforming the city into a consumer paradise. The gleaming shopping malls, like Central World and the fast-rising Central Embassy and Emporium II, are worthy of Singapore or even Tokyo. Thai food, if you’re a fan, is unbeatable whether it’s a simple bowl of spicy noodles or sumptuous multi-course meals. In the 1980s, the range of other cuisines was limited although surprisingly good. But Bangkok has now become a gastro-mecca with outstanding Japanese, French, Middle Eastern and Italian restaurants – crowned by my favorite, Appia, a rustic Roman trattoria on Soi Sukhumvit 31.

For war correspondents of yesteryear, the color and danger are still there, in pockets: a vicious secessionist conflict in the south and occasional clashes between red and yellow shirts and the military. Fighting continues in northern Myanmar between Kachin ethnic rebels and the military, while security concerns continue over Thai-Cambodian territorial disagreements.

These days, though, many of us are chasing bankers and businessmen rather than coup plotters and CIA agents. Our thrills are often reduced to hair-raising dashes through Bangkok traffic on motorbike taxis or covering an angry farmers’ protest over rubber or rice prices. Maybe it’s a sign of the times but that seems to be enough danger for many of us Bangkok hacks.

Gwen Robinson was until June the Financial Times regional correspondent based in Bangkok. She is now senior fellow at the Institute for Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok and an occasional contributor to the FT, Nikkei Asian Review and other publications.

 

From the President's desk

THE WEEKS HAVE BEEN SPEEDING BY, THANKFULLY WITH October’s cooler days and a whiff of fall in the air. On top of the agenda is our new membership campaign launched Oct. 1. We’re offering enticing deals in the Regular, Journalist/Writer and Associate membership categories for a limited time only. New Regular and Journalist/Writer memberships will receive credit on their joining fees. New Associate members will receive a generous ¥100,000 credit. Sponsors (FCCJ members who introduce a new member) will receive a dining certificate worth ¥10,000 and ¥20,000 respectively. The campaign is a great opportunity to promote our many excellent services, including our new website!

Oct. 15 marks the launch of the renewed website, at www.fccj.or.jp. Our hardworking website team, Greg Starr (Editor-in-chief) and Said Karlsson (Multi-media Editor) in collaboration with Next, Inc. have created a highly accessible site with a new design and simplified interface. It offers multi-media functions such as live streaming and connectability to social media. It also has a responsive design for smart phones and tablets. The front page highlights more of the Club’s facilities and events beyond PAC, such as dining, the library, film screenings and entertainment so viewers can get a better sense of what’s going on at the Club. It includes a “Dispatches” blog that showcases the work of Club members through links to their articles. The website team says that the site is set up for further development and they are open to ideas and comments.

We’re uploading videos from most of our press events onto YouTube to broaden the knowledge of the clubs activities. We also plan to use YouTube as the host for our live streaming service, but in order to do so we need 100 subscribers. It’s super easy to become one. Just visit the FCCJchannel page at www.youtube.com/FCCJchannel and click the “subscribe”-button.

The number of live streaming viewers has steadily increased, along with our announcements and visual/sound quality. The PAC presser on Sept. 24 with Gregory Jaczko received 80 viewers from around the globe, the largest number so far. During his talk, the controversial former chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission stressed the importance of getting the public involved in government plans to restart Japan’s nuclear reactors. An impactful public voice is always needed. This reminded me of the Club’s vital role as platform for freedom of speech. Our live streaming service and social media connections will significantly strengthen this platform and our public reach.

Interestingly, the Freedom of the Press Committee is taking on this issue in a unique way. With the coordinated help of FCCJ staff, it is now building a Journalist Information Service to better inform our members about media events. To quote chairman Michael Penn, “The service is now being fashioned to ensure that the FCCJ becomes a crucial artery by which foreign journalists can gain the information they need to do their jobs more effectively.”

We are planning to increase our member services. One example is a quarterly buffet dinner for new members to meet the president, board of directors and selected journalists and associate members. This could also be an excellent networking opportunity. A monthly meet for new and old members in the Main Bar is another option. Please let me know your ideas.

On Sept. 18, I was delighted to meet the 15 student members attending the DeRoy Memorial Scholarship Committee workshop with keynote speaker Mr. Jogin Bae, counselor for political affairs at the Korean Embassy in Tokyo. The Scholarship Fund’s annual fundraising dinner will be held on Friday, Dec. 6, so please attend if you can. It’s for an honorable cause and promises to be an enjoyable evening. (For inquiries please contact the front desk.)

Attracting students and young people to the Club is a major goal not only to revitalize our membership but as part of our upcoming koeki (public service) status. On this front, we’re excited to announce that our collaboration with Tokyu/IRS and JTB has already borne fruit — we’ve booked a high school tour and journalist talk for February next year. High school and college tours normally take up to two years to arrange, but interest in the FCCJ has been way beyond expectations. Indeed, the Club has so much to offer.                 

Go to top