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Number 1 Shimbun


NUMBER 1 SHIMBUN 2019 (121)

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Dynamic leader of the LDP

03 1

When he spoke at a Club luncheon on Feb. 28, 1994, Ryutaro Hashimoto was a strong contender for the leadership of Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). Two years later, he was elected PM. To his left is FCCJ president Lew Simons (Knight-Ridder).

Born on July 29, 1937, in Okayama Prefecture, Ryutaro Hashimoto followed in the footsteps of his father, Ryogo, an LDP stalwart, winning his Diet seat in 1963. He steadily climbed the LDP ranks, with stints as minister of health, of transport and of trade on his way to the top.

His career covered the tumultuous times following Japan’s burst economic bubble that resulted in the LDP’s shocking fall from political power in 1993. He held the post of trade minister (MITI) in the coalition government headed by Tomiichi Murayama of the Socialist Democratic Party. Hashimoto eventually replaced Murayama as prime minister in January of 1996 and served in that capacity until July 30, 1998. 

Hashimoto successfully streamlined certain governmental structures, including the cabinet, but for the most part failed in his attempts at political and economic reforms due to political infighting. He is remembered primarily for the 1996 agreement with the U.S. to relocate its Marine air base at Futenma to Henoko, which even today faces opposition. He is also remembered for implementing an increase in the consumption tax in 1997 from 3 percent to 5 percent, and the recession that followed. 

Hashimoto resigned as PM in July of 1998 after a major loss of LDP seats in the Upper House election that year. However, he continued as the leader of the largest faction and in 2001 again became a candidate for prime minister. Ironically, he lost to Junichiro Koizumi, whom he trounced in a 1995 race for LDP leadership. His political career came to an end in 2004 after disclosure of an illegal campaign donation.

Hashimoto died at age 68 on July 1, 2006 following an abdominal operation.

(I interviewed Hashimoto in 1985 regarding the future of healthcare and was impressed by his broad knowledge and insights. His description of the problems and possible solutions became so detailed that he extended our scheduled half hour to a full hour.)

Charles Pomeroy, editor of Foreign Correspondents in Japan, a history of the Club that is available at the front desk

Imprisoned women journalists


A report from Reporters without Borders


AS MORE AND MORE women take up journalism, so too have women journalists increasingly been the victims of ruthless persecution by authoritarian regimes. According to a Reporters Without Borders tally, of the 334 journalists in prison at the end of February, 27 of them – or 8 percent – were women. Five years ago, only 3 percent of imprisoned journalists were women.

These women journalists are being held in nine countries. Iran and China are the two largest jailers of women journalists, with seven each. They are followed by Turkey which – despite freeing the famous Kurdish journalist and artist Zehra Dogan recently – continues to detain four other women journalists. Saudi Arabia is holding three women journalists, Vietnam two and Egypt, Bahrain, Syria, and Nicaragua are each holding one.

Although targeted by the authorities because of their articles or social network posts, women journalists are usually held on charges of “terrorist propaganda” or “membership of a terrorist group,” as in Turkey and Egypt, or for “suspicious contacts with foreign entities,” as in Saudi Arabia. Although vague and unsubstantiated, allegations of this kind are used to impose long jail terms.

In Iran, journalist and human rights defender Narges Mohammadi and Paineveste blog editor Hengameh Shahidi were sentenced to 10 and 12 years in prison respectively on charges of “conspiring against national security and the Islamic Republic” and “insulting” the head of the judicial system. Roya Saberi Negad Nobakht, who has British and Iranian dual citizenship, initially received a 20-year prison sentence in 2014 for her Facebook posts. It was later reduced to five years.

Some countries have no reservations about imposing the longest possible prison terms in order to silence outspoken voices. This is the case in China. Gulmira Imin, a member of the Uyghur Muslim community and editor of the news website Salkin, was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2010 on charges of “separatism” and “divulging state secrets.”

A well-known 74-year-old journalist, Nazli Ilicak, received the same sentence in Turkey for taking part in a TV broadcast critical of the government on the eve of an abortive coup attempt in July 2016. She and two male colleagues, the Altan brothers, were sentenced to “aggravated” imprisonment for life, the harshest form of isolation, with no furloughs and no possibility of a pardon.

Women, like their male colleagues, are liable to be subjected to extremely harsh prison conditions. Lucía Pineda Ubau, the news director of the Nicaraguan TV news channel 100% Noticias, spent 41 days in Managua’s El Chipote high-security prison before being transferred to a women’s prison at the end of December. The conditions in El Chipote, where the former Somoza family dictatorship used to torture its political prisoners, are “inhumane,” according to a Portuguese MEP who visited Pineda there.

Tran Thi Nga, a Vietnamese blogger who defended migrant workers, was held incommunicado for more than six months after her arrest, until finally sentenced to nine years in prison on a charge of “anti-state propaganda” in a one-day trial on July 25, 2017. She was denied phone calls and visits for nearly a year because she “refused to admit her guilt.”

Women are spared none of the worst forms of mistreatment. For many, physical torture is compounded by the threat of rape and sexual harassment. In China, Gulmira Imin was tortured and forced to sign documents without being able to see her lawyer.

According to the family of Shorouq Amjad Ahmed al Sayed, a young photo­journalist arrested in Egypt on April 25, 2018, she was beaten unconscious, insulted and threatened with rape until the she made the confession sought by her interrogators – namely, that she had created a website with the aim of endangering public order and belonged to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.

Six other women journalists are currently being held without trial in other parts of the world. In some cases, their families have lost all contact with them. In China, no one knows what has become of three women citizen-journalists, Zhang Jixin, Qin Chao and Li Zhaoxlu, who were arrested in 2015, 2016, and 2017 respectively.

“Twenty-seven woman journalists are currently deprived of their freedom because of what they wrote or because they spoke out courageously,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire says. “They are spared nothing. They are often the victims of disproportionate and iniquitous sentences. They are subjected to the most appalling prison conditions, like their male colleagues, and they are sometimes also tortured and harassed sexually. We call for their immediate release and we urge the United Nations to take up these cases.” ❶


New in the Library


11 comfort women

Comfort Women and Sex in the Battle Zone
Ikuhiko Hata; Jason Michael Morgan (trans.)
Hamilton Books
Gift from Yoshiko Sakurai

The Private Diplomacy of Shibusawa Eiichi: Visionary Entrepreneur and Transnationalist of Modern Japan
Masahide Shibusawa; The Center for International Communication (trans.)
Renaissance Books
Gift from Masahide Shibusawa

Colonizing Language : Cultural Production and Language Politics in Modern Japan and Korea
Christina Yi
Columbia University Press 

11 reinventing japan
Reinventing Japan: New Directions in Global Leadership

Martin Fackler and Yoichi Funabashi (ed.)
Gift from Martin Fackler

Target: Business Wisdom from the Ancient Japanese Martial Art of Kyudo
Jérôme Chouchan
LID Publishing
Gift from Jérôme Chouchan

Target: Godiva wa naze uriage nibai o gonenkan de tassei shitanoka?
Jérôme Chouchan
Takahashi Shoten
Gift from Jérôme Chouchan

* EBSCO is an e-library system provider. Members are able to borrow books from anywhere via the FCCJ Library’s EBSCO account.
The system works in a similar way to the lending system of the print-book library in that only one person can borrow these books at a time.
But after due dates borrowers will not be able to open the book. Members will need their own ID and password to use the service.

Full guidance for using these books will be explained to Members.


New Members & New in the Library


11 Denyer Simon DR0530

SIMON DENYER is the Washington Post’s bureau chief for Japan and the Koreas. He arrived in Japan last summer as a refugee from China’s pollution and Internet censorship, after five years in Beijing. He also spent more than seven years in India, for the Post and Reuters, and managed to get a book out of the experience: Rogue Elephant: Harnessing the Power of India’s Unruly Democracy. He won an Overseas Press Club award for his coverage of China’s Internet censorship and digital surveillance, a National Headliners Award and a Human Rights Press Award for coverage of Tibet. He also covered the Libyan uprising against Gaddafi and Ukrainian civil war for the Post, and was president of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of South Asia in New Delhi. He worked as Reuters Washington bureau chief during the Obama administration, as Pakistan & Afghanistan bureau chief shortly after 9/11, and in Nairobi, New York and London for Reuters text and television. Born in Portsmouth, and a devoted Pompey fan, he now lives in another port city, Yokohama, with his wife and daughter, and still plays football and cricket at every possible opportunity, if not always very well.


11 Inada Shinji IR0760 a small

SHINJI INADA is the Foreign News Section editor of the Asahi Shimbun. He joined the paper in 1992 and held positions in Gifu and Nagoya before joining the Foreign News section at the Tokyo head office in 1998. His overseas roles have included bureau chief in Tehran from 1999 to 2001, a stint as correspondent in London from 2004 to 2007 and bureau chief in Paris from 2010 to 2014. He has been with the Foreign News Section since 2015.


11 Takeo Yuko TR1020 a

YUKO TAKEO reports on the economy for Bloomberg News, and is currently focused on covering the Ministry of Finance and the Bank of Japan. Since joining Bloomberg in 2013, she has covered the Japanese stock market, Japan’s giant pension fund GPIF, and various corporate news. She returns to the FCCJ after being a student member back in 2011. Born in Tokyo, Yuko is a graduate of Sophia University and the London School of Economics and Political Science.


Stefan J. Wagstyl, Financial Times/Nikkei Asian Review


Takao Nagatake, Chunichi Shimbun
Kenichi Sakuma, Makino Publishing Co., Ltd.


Goya Furukawa, Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation
Shinichi Fukuoka, Real Estate Research Institute, Inc.
Yoshiaki Hagiwara, Hagiwara Electric Holdings Co., Ltd.
Ichiro Ishikawa, K and Blue Co., Ltd.
Satoshi Ihara, Sun Realty & Insurance Corporation
Masatoshi Kato, Nikka Shoko Co., Ltd.
Makoto Miyauchi, Toin Hospital
Yoko Niwa, Real Estate Research Institute, Inc.
Munenori Ogata, MUFG Bank, Ltd.
Tomohiro Omoda, Central Japan International Airport Co., Ltd.
Yohei Suzuki, Shihodo Gallery
Yoshinao Takashima, Tokyo Maine & Nichido Fire Insurance
Yasuhiro Tamai, K and Blue Co., Ltd.
Ichiro Yonahara, Japan Steels International Co., Ltd.


Yasutaka Sanga, Kajiya Corporation Co., Ltd.
Noriko Takaku


Kakejiku art

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Hanging scrolls


A total of 33 designers, selected by the designers’ association DAS, display new takes on Gifu’s traditional kakejiku (Japanese hanging scrolls). DAS believes that kakejiku are one of the best interior decoration choices for today’s art lovers (with extra advantages of being light and compact). The exhibition’s aim is to continue to inspire new kakejiku reflecting different lifestyles all over the world – and to promote a beautiful craft. ❶

Designers: Motodugu Araki, Junko Inagaki, Shinsaku Inoue, Takako Imatani, Hiroshi Ira, Dairoku Oka, Miyoko Kawamura, Kazuo Kimura, Hiroko Koshino, Tadahiro Sakamoto, Hitoshi Sasaki, Kunio Sato, Takahiro Shima, Akihito Mizu, Giacomo Valentini, Shinnosuke Sugizaki, Yoshinori Sengoku, Toshihiko Daimon, Yukichi Takada, Zenmaru Takahashi, Akihiko Tamura, Masahiko Tsubota, Yoshihiro Noguchi, Shigeki Hattori, Masaki Hisatani, Takeshi Fukuda, Takashi Fujita, Riko Honta, Yoshiho Mawatari, Haruko Mitori, Akiko Miyako, Takao Yamada, Yoji Yamamoto.

In Memoriam: Life Member James P. Colligan

 09 James P. Colligan 0000-00-00-B2-003


JAMES P. COLLIGAN, a Roman Catholic priest and FCCJ Life Member who died at 90 on Jan. 31 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, had something in common with Cold War-era journalistic contemporaries who represented government-funded news organizations ranging from VOA and Stars and Stripes to Komsomolskaya Pravda and Novoye Vremya, and who did not wish to be – or to be seen as – anything less than first class correspondents.

Colligan was determined to show that church-sponsored journalism was the real deal. Representing UCAN (Union of Catholic Asian News) and then CNS (Catholic News Service), he threw himself into both reporting good stories and participating in the professional activities that help make good stories possible. He served three terms as chair of the Foreign Press in Japan and was elected to the FCCJ’s board.

“Jim was on my board,” recalls Mike “Buck” Tharp, Club president 1989-90. “Just as he always was while sitting at a table in the Main Bar, Jim was often the grownup in the room. He was measured, polite, intelligent and empathetic with a subtly wicked sense of humor.” 

Coming from what he described as a working class family in the ethnic mixing bowl that was Pittsburgh, Jim Colligan had an explanation for his healthy lungs despite exposure to the tobacco smoke that used to fill the Club’s bars: In the American steel capital he’d awakened each morning to find soot on the family’s window sills.

COLLIGAN WENT TO COLLEGE at Duquesne University and enjoyed the dating scene. He even came close to marrying one woman – but before that could happen he realized he had a religious vocation. Of course, Catholic priests must take vows of chastity and so, he recalled, he “said a sad goodbye” and went off to the seminary of the Maryknoll Society.

In 1955, after his ordination, Father Colligan was posted to Japan as a Maryknoll missioner. He studied Japanese and carried out parish priest duties in Sapporo and Kyoto parishes. For four years, he was a pastor and kindergarten principal in the coal-mining town of Mikasa in Hokkaido. At the same time, he taught English at Hokkaido University’s Iwamizawa Division.

He took time out to study journalism back in the U.S., at Syracuse University, then returned to Japan as a journalist. Besides writing for the Catholic news organizations, he also did a column for a Protestant publication, Japan Christian Quarterly. He edited a book called The Image of Christianity in Japan: A Survey. A highly accomplished photographer, he published a book of photos of the 1981 visit to Japan by Pope John Paul II. 

Non-religious news stories he covered included the 1992 visit of President George H.W. Bush. When the president fell ill at a state dinner, Colligan was there.

He was a fixture evenings in the Main Bar, where he exhibited his artistic talent by constantly sketching cartoons on the backs of drink coasters. He and the late Richard Pyle of the AP “scribbled lots of cartoons, often funny ones,” recalls former Club board member Toshio Aritake. Some of those cartoons, signed “Japacol,” made it into Number 1 Shimbun.


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Wedding vows
Jim officiates a marriage in his role in the parish

“HE SHOWED THAT DRY wit,” agrees Tharp. “He drew one for us –‘The Buckboard’ with me at the reins and caricatures of our board members in the wagon.”

A topic he kept returning to in conversation was the pigeons that made sleep in his Tokyo apartment difficult and repeatedly fouled his balcony. To hear him talk, you’d imagine he went after them relentlessly but haplessly – the way Wile E. Coyote pursued the Roadrunner.

Club colleagues didn’t hesitate to consult him on the relevant theology. Animal lover Mieko Yasuhara, longtime translator of the Asahi Shimbun’s “Vox Populi” column, was given to feeding the pigeons on her own balcony. A graduate of a Catholic school, she asked whether cats have immortal souls – and if so, whether Colligan would baptize her cat Kobayakawa. “No,” he replied, unfazed.

“It was all good fun,” remembers Yasuhara’s husband, former Club president Roger Schreffler. “The Club had an auction for some reason, I can’t recall why or when. Jim donated more than a hundred of his coasters. I do remember that I bought one on which he had drawn a pigeon.”

Although he seldom wore a clerical collar in the Club, Colligan, with his chiseled Irish looks, could have been Hollywood casting’s version of a handsome priest. As Schreffler puts it, “he was dapper, the most eligible bachelor some might say.” Or, as Colligan himself would have protested, ineligible. 

Often asked to handle delicate Club legal issues, Colligan liked to say, tongue in cheek, that he did so in reliance on “canon law.” In one such instance in 1993, recounted in the official Club history, president Lew Simons asked Colligan to deal with a dispute over regular membership qualifications.

ONE IRATE MEMBER “PROMPTLY sent Simons a fax complaining that the problem should be handled by a regular correspondent and not ‘by a fucking missionary.’ Simons handed the message to Colligan, who was sitting next to him in the bar. Colligan smiled and said, ‘No, no. I’m the unfucking missionary.’ Colligan eventually was able to defuse the issue.”

Even though his eyes might twinkle when he referred to his priestly vows, he was dead serious about them. That was a major factor when, ultimately, Colligan-style journalism apparently became too probing to suit some superiors in his religious order. The work that upset Maryknoll bosses was on a topic less often addressed at that time than it is now: priests aggressively indulging their sexuality.

“Maryknoll priests who have taken vows of chastity and fidelity to the Church are bound to uphold that teaching, both in word and deed,” he wrote in a 1991 article in the Catholic magazine Crisis, in which he cited a series of cases of Maryknoll priests behaving otherwise. “As more cases like this become known, priests everywhere become targets of suspicion on the parts of mothers and parishioners.”

Criticizing priests and officials “who take a light view of the problem,” he argued that “one reason for their neglect and acquiescence is Maryknoll’s philosophy of liberation theology.” The society “has actively promoted the idea that social justice is more important than personal morality.” He added, “I believe in social justice myself, but not to the point where it takes away responsibility for individual behavior.”

REPORTING ON QUESTIONS OF that sort more than a decade later would bring Pulitzer Prize recognition to the Boston Globe and, still later, win the movie Spotlight the Oscar for best picture. But such was the level of concern about Colligan’s challenge that his superiors ordered him home for a psychiatric examination.

When talking with fellow FCCJ members, he compared the experience to something that would have been inflicted on a Soviet dissident. He described his stay at the order’s New York-area base as akin to house arrest.

Eventually, in 1997, Colligan wangled a career-capping assignment to Los Angeles. Jim Palmer, former AP photojournalist, and his wife Pamela were among Tokyo friends who had already moved to L.A. Pam Palmer relates that they helped him find an apartment and that he had “a swell time.” Colligan led Sunday services at a couple of churches and, in his spare hours, rode his bicycle, hung out with the Palmers, Tharp and ex-UPI Tokyo correspondent John Needham and became a champion (in his age group) skyscraper climber.

He returned to Maryknoll’s headquarters in Ossining, NY, to live in the society’s retirement home for a couple of years. Then, after cerebral incidents and an eventual diagnosis of dysphasia, he moved back to Pittsburgh – by then a city cleaned up, gentrified and quite pleasant. His final two years, during which he went silent on social media, were spent in assisted living there as some of his many relatives helped look after their beloved brother and uncle. “The adventurous life that he led was something that touched my entire family,” a nephew, Shawn MacIntyre, said in a eulogy. ❶

Bradley Martin, in his 42nd year as an Asia correspondent, is also the author of a thriller set in a near-future North Korea.


Lens craft

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Somin-sai festival 
Men at Kokusekiji, Oshu, after bathing in the river, Feb. 11.
The ancient festival is to pray for good harvests and the prevention of climate disasters.
by Richard Atrero de Guzman/SIPA


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A long line
Left, the Imperial family greets well-wishers from the balcony
of the palace on the Emperor’s birthday, Dec. 23 last year.
by Albert Siegel


08 Tomohiro Ohsumi 004

Lion dance 
Below left, a street performance for Chinese New Year
in Yokohama enters a restaurant, Feb. 5.
by Tomohiro Ohsumi


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More icy bathing 
Below right, Shinto believers pour purifying cold water
over themselves at Kanda shrine, Tokyo, Jan, 26.
by Yoshikazu Tsuno


Truth, lies and Shock and Awe

07 Rob Reiner 01


Rob Reiner trains his lens on a true story about journalism, jingoism and the drums of war.


By Tim Hornyak


THERE’S A BRILLIANT SCENE in the 1970s U.S. TV show All in the Family where Archie Bunker, a “lovable bigot,” meets his daughter’s hippy boyfriend for the first time. Looking over the headlines in a newspaper, they immediately begin arguing about the Vietnam War. When the boyfriend calls the conflict illegal and immoral, Bunker tells him, “You are a meathead… Dead from the neck up!” He then breaks into an overpowering rendition of “God Bless America,” causing the boyfriend to storm out. 

Rob Reiner, the actor who played the boyfriend, is still protesting America’s overseas wars. He visited Japan in February to promote his latest film, the true story of Knight Ridder journalists Jonathan Landay and Warren Strobel who probed the official justifications for the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. The title, Shock and Awe, refers to the battle plan concept developed at the National Defense University that was repeated by U.S. officials and parroted by U.S. news media. 

Apart from directing, Reiner stars as Knight Ridder editor John Walcott, who has described the film as practically a word-for-word accurate representation of actual events. Reiner, known for iconic films like Stand By Me, When Harry Met Sally… and This Is Spinal Tap, visited the FCCJ to talk not only about why he wanted to make a movie about the George W. Bush administration but also today’s news media landscape. 

“I was of draft age during the Vietnam War, and as we were running up to the war in Iraq in 2003 I was appalled that in my lifetime we would be engaging in war based on lies,” said Reiner. “We knew that there was no connection between Saddam Hussein and 9/11. We knew that there was no evidence of weapons of mass destruction, WMD. And we knew that the administration was using the fear of the American public in going forward and invading Iraq based on the ‘Project for a New American Century’, [a 1997 statement of principles] written by a bunch of neocons at a conservative think tank.”

THE FILM INCLUDES A 2002 clip of then-Vice President Dick Cheney telling an audience, “Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction.” Mainstream U.S. media swallowed this, hook, line and sinker, ignoring investigative reports written by Landay and Strobel, portrayed in the film by Woody Harrelson and James Marsden, respectively. The jingoist chorus for invasion grew as overwhelming as Bunker’s singing. The result, of course, was the fall of the Iraq regime and, according to the website Iraq Body Count, the violent deaths of over 280,000 civilians and combatants. U.S. weapons inspectors found no militarily significant WMD. 

The war left a tragic, divisive legacy that was reflected in the film’s production. Some U.S. news media outlets refused to sell footage for use in Shock and Awe. Predictably enough, many American viewers didn’t warm to it either, with critics comparing it unfavorably to Reiner’s 1992 Oscar-nominated court-martial drama A Few Good Men. “It’s an important story to remember right now, assuming you can remember anything after being beaten over the head with talking points for 90 minutes,” Rolling Stone’s David Fear wrote. “The title is a misnomer.”

But Reiner didn’t seem to be fazed when discussing his hopes for a better response in Japan, where the film was slated to debut in March 2019 under the title Kishatachi (journalists). He noted that, in a happy irony, journalists like Landay and Strobel are no longer media pariahs, thanks to the rise of a reality TV star to the presidency. Reiner said the U.S. news media has been “bifurcated” between outlets with a pro-Donald Trump agenda and those that have returned to their watchdog role vis-à-vis the White House. 

“CNN, NBC, Washington Post, New York Times are holding the president accountable and they’re working very hard at trying to get to the truth,” Reiner said. “That didn’t happen in the run-up to his election. I believe mainstream media was not doing the due diligence it needed to do at the time, for a couple of reasons. One is I don’t think they thought he was going to win, and two, quite frankly, money. [Former CBS Corp. CEO] Les Moonves put it quite succinctly. He said ‘Donald Trump is bad for the country. He’s good for CBS.’”

All in the Family also aired on CBS, and no doubt Archie Bunker would have cheered Trump’s refrain of “fake news.” The anti-war boyfriend though, would probably respond with a line from Shock and Awe that Reiner’s Walcott delivers to his troops: “When the government says something, you only have one question to ask: Is it true?” If American news media today does its job, future scholars of journalism may look back and say, “Those were the days.” ❶

Tim Hornyak is a freelance writer who has worked for IDG News, CNET News, Lonely Planet and other media. He is the author of Loving the Machine: The Art and Science of Japanese Robots.


Nabbing the newsmakers

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A packed meeting
Left to right, Fred Varcoe (freelance), Abby Leonard (freelance), Yuka Ito (PAC), co-chair Teddy Jimbo (Video News),
Akiko Saikawa (PAC), co-chair David McNeill (The Economist), Ken Moritsugu (AP), Roger Schreffler (WardsAuto).


Inviting those in the headlines to face the questions of journalist Members is one of the core elements of the FCCJ. Meet the Professional Activities Committee – the team that’s responsible for the lineup.


By Julian Ryall


A foreign correspondents’ club that lacks a hard-driving and fast-acting committee dedicated to bringing in speakers to address the most pressing and newsworthy issues of the day, David McNeill reckons, is about as much use as the proverbial chocolate teapot.

Joint chair of the FCCJ’s Professional Activities Committee (PAC) and a correspondent for the Economist, McNeill has served on the board and the Club’s Freedom of the Press Committee as well as editing the Number 1 Shimbun, but considers PAC to be the heart of what the Club is about. “What are we if we’re not a fully functioning club that facilitates the work of journalists?” McNeill said.

The 12 member-strong committee is charged with consistently delivering the people and issues that the Club’s members turn into column inches or video footage, he says, although he admits that is rarely as straightforward as it might be. “PAC is made up of working journalists who vote on events. If it is working well, it brings in speakers that are of use to the Club’s members,” he said. “If it doesn’t do that, then members of the FCCJ cannot be plugged in to what is going on in Japan and the region.”

Members of the committee meet once a month to propose speakers for the weeks ahead, although they communicate recommendations via e-mail when a breaking news story requires swift action to arrange for a speaker to address the Club.

In February, for example, the committee’s discussions led to invitations being extended to Denny Tamaki, the governor of Okinawa, to speak after the prefecture-wide referendum on U.S. bases, and to the “combative” new lawyer who has been taken on to defend Carlos Ghosn in his legal struggles with Nissan Motor Co.

The press conference in January with Ghosn’s previous lawyer – with McNeill as moderator – was one of the best-attended in the FCCJ’s history. With the world’s media watching and the FCCJ logo prominent in the background, that sort of publicity can only be a good thing. The committee continues to try to get Greg Kelly – who is accused of abetting Ghosn’s alleged illegal actions – to speak at the Club, along with officials from the prosecutor’s office for the other side of the story.


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Studying newsmakers
At a PAC meeting, committee members consider the newsmakers.
On the right, a member who missed our portrait, Martin Koelling.


THERE IS A STANDING request in with the government for someone from the cabinet to speak at the Club, although McNeill admits it has been a “real struggle” to convince the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to engage with the foreign media since he returned to power in 2012. “We have never had Abe since he was elected in 2012; in fact, we have not had [Finance Minister] Taro Aso or any foreign minister since then,” McNeill said. “We have put in a lot of effort to get them to come, but to no avail. It now feels like a boycott.”

It is possible that the government considers the FCCJ to be in decline, with an ageing and shrinking core of full-time correspondents, more freelancers and bloggers writing for an online audience, but they almost certainly prefer scripted events that they are able to control – unlike the press conference on Sept. 25, 2014 in which Eriko Yamatani, chair of the National Public Safety Commission, ended up “like a rabbit in the headlights,” McNeill said.

Arriving with the expectation of discussing North Korea’s kidnapping of Japanese nationals, she was instead quizzed on the recent revelation of her close links to Zaitokukai, described by McNeill himself in a report on the event as “perhaps Japan’s most toxic racist group.” The result was not the choreographed reception she could have expected at the National Press Club, but an example of how the media operates in most parts of the world with a strong press.

McNeill says he was “astonished” when another senior politician demanded all the questions that he would face after his speech in advance. And was not embarrassed at making the demand. Instead of free-for-all press conferences, the government has introduced “surgical strikes” in the form of invitation-only meetings with bureau chiefs, often off the record. The downsides are obvious; most FCCJ members cannot access these senior government ministers and invitations can suddenly stop if the correspondent is perceived to have stepped out of line.


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McNEILL SAYS HE HAS the utmost admiration for the FCCJ’s PAC staff, who are charged with reaching out to potential speakers – and cajoling those who are reluctant to step out of their comfort zone. “We have superb staff who are brilliant at what has to be quite a demanding job,” he said. “Nominating these people is the easy part; they have to do all the tough stuff.”

Akiko Saikawa, who oversees PAC events as media and press conferences liaison manager, plays down the scale of the task she regularly faces. “The hardest part is that we get so many requests from members suggesting people to come and speak at the Club: we can only have so many events,” she said. 

“It is surprisingly easy to get some speakers to come, but on other occasions we have to work really hard to try to persuade them to come. In some cases, it can take more than a year,” Saikawa said. “At that point, they often agree because we have worn them down; they know we will just keep calling them until they agree. I think some of them come just so we will stop calling them.”

Along with Carlos Ghosn’s lawyer, a particularly memorable press conference for McNeill was David Kaye, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, because it shone a new light on the on-going issue of Japan’s closed press club system and questions over the independence of the domestic media.

But there are still some high-profile targets for the committee to convince to come to the Club. “It would be great to have the Emperor or the Crown Prince – although that will likely never happen,” said McNeill. “But Abe would be a very important event for us and there is absolutely no reason why he could not come. We’re also obviously very keen to get Ghosn here just as soon as we can – that would be huge for us.” ❶

Julian Ryall is Japan correspondent for the Daily Telegraph.


Kathrin Erdmann

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By David McNeill


Kathrin Erdmann has been in Japan for less than six months but has already had her share of surprises. Take public prosecutors. In her native Germany, reporters expect them to give detailed briefings of ongoing cases. “Here, they say just ‘no comment’,” she laughs, recalling her first calls to stonewalling prosecutors on the detention of Carlos Ghosn, Nissan’s defrocked boss. “If you’re talking about a democracy, it is really shocking that they don’t respond.”

Then there is immigration, which Germany knows something about too: It has fielded over 1.4 million asylum applications since Chancellor Angela Merkel resisted demands to close the country’s borders in 2015. Erdmann doesn’t underestimate the difficulties of accommodating such a tsunami of foreigners. “It took a long time; we had a lot of problems with refugees and still have, but we understood that they have to speak the language, and we have to make it easy for them to find a job.”

She sees no such system here. “In Japan, [refugees and immigrants] have to learn Japanese themselves; there are no programs to integrate them and learn the customs – and this is much more important here. This country needs immigration.” Erdmann says the missing ingredient is political leadership. “You have to really change the minds of people. This has to come from the politicians but they are not really interested in attracting immigrants. My impression is that they only see them as second-class people.” 

ERDMANN COVERS JAPAN AND a large chunk of East Asia, including Korea and Taiwan, for ARD, Germany’s powerful consortium of regional public broadcasters. A Berliner, she studied politics in the city before joining NDR (Northern German Broadcasting) as a freelancer in 2005. NDR put her on half-time staff in 2011. The Tokyo bureau is her first full-time position. 

The decision to come halfway across the world wasn’t easy, she says, during an interview at ARD’s office in the upscale residential district of Shoto, just around the corner from the home of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. For one thing, she had to leave her partner behind in Germany. “I cannot ask someone to give up and follow me here. By the time we would go back he would be in his mid-50s.” 

Erdmann hopes her efforts will bring a fresh perspective from Asia to her millions of German listeners. The focus of her predecessors – all men – she says, was economics; she leans toward social issues. “I’d like to do stories on women, on poverty and how homeless people really live.” She wants to look at businesswomen who buy men in host bars and says stories about Japan’s kawaii culture are popular back home. She recently visited a fashion show, the first ARD correspondent in 12 years to do so.


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ERDMANN IS RELUCTANT TO deploy the usual, sometimes clichéd historical comparisons between Germany and her new host country. “I think it’s too complicated,” she says, of the discomforting legacy of World War II. “Nobody understands why Japan has such difficulties with the past.” Still, the past can’t be completely avoided: “As a correspondent you can’t choose,” she says, noting that she has already been snagged for stories on comfort women. 

Not surprisingly, perhaps, given German’s nuclear-phobic reputation, Erdmann was invited to visit Fukushima soon after she arrived. The resulting look at the cleanup from Japan’s 2011 disastrous triple meltdown was “more or less” a promotion tour but she says that’s perfectly natural. “If I were a foreign journalist in Germany, of course, I would not expect them to show me the country’s weak points.” Still, the technical complexity of the story means she is dreading a March 11 deadline. “I would love to do a human story about someone who has been displaced instead.”

Like many Japan-based foreign correspondents, Erdmann often finds herself busier dealing with stories about its isolated neighbor, North Korea. Last October, she went there to report. “I had a lot of fun,” she says, recalling a “very good” cappuccino in Pyongyang and a trip to the mountains. “People were singing, dancing, and they had a barbecue. It was another face of North Korea. Of course, I know it’s a difficult country but I could only report what I saw.”

Japan and Germany could still learn a lot from each other, she says. While Merkel is criticized for accepting so many Syrian refugees, Erdmann thinks that on balance the open-border policy will be good for Germany. “On the other hand, I appreciate very much this deep culture and tradition in Japan. In some ways, we gave up on that in Germany.” The important thing, she says, is to show respect to the place you’re reporting. “We all have our own personal interest but ultimately you just have to report the story.” ❶

David McNeill writes for the Irish Times and the Economist, and teaches media literacy at Hosei and Sophia Universities.




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