NOTWITHSTANDING OUR CHERISHED past cluttered with Stag Bars and topless dancers, some formidable reputations were forged by women correspondents at the FCCJ from the very early days.

Long before she found her second life as the face that graces the jacket of the Club’s history, Foreign Correspondents In Japan, Marguerite Higgins was an ace correspondent covering WWII and Korea. Not satisfied with being the first, or only, woman at anything, she was focused on being the best, and her heated rivalry with Homer Bigart became a gold mine of headlines for the Herald Tribune, for which they both worked.

Mary Ann Maskery of ABC News effortlessly broke through the glass ceiling to become the very first of our three women presidents to date in Another sign of the changing times was the transition of the name of the “Stag Bar” to “Shimbun Alley Bar” in 1990, after a naming contest won by the talented Daniella Kaneva of the Bulgarian News Agency.

Sandra Mori, the only member today who can claim to having been in every club house the FCCJ has ever had, modestly says she covered mostly “soft topics,” but still can recall countless narrow escapes from riots in Kashmir, or dodging bombs going off at a bazaar in Zamboanga, and once had to be smuggled across the Cambodian border to Thailand rolled up in a carpet to hide her famous red hair, à la Lara Croft.

Granddaughter of Meijiera PM Prince Masayoshi Matsukata, and graduate of the American School in Japan, few were as well versed and highly educated in both cultures as Haru Matsukata. By the time James Michener introduced her to eventual husband Edwin Reischauer, she was writing for the Saturday Evening Post and already the first Japanese full correspondent member of the FCCJ, not to mention a rare female director on the Board. Those must certainly have been some heady days in the Club bar, especially after Edwin was appointed ambassador to Japan by JFK.

Amongst the many women who made the leap from correspondents’ assistants to ace journalists, no FCCJ member became more famous in the Japanese media than Atsuko Chiba. Upon her breast cancer diagnosis, Chiba chronicled her intensely personal journey in the weekly Bungei Shunju, and then in a book which triggered a muchneeded public debate in 1981.

Supported throughout by Norman Pearlstine, her mentor at the Wall Street Journal, and friends such as Mike Tharpe and Charles Pomeroy, she helped break open the secrecy in Japan’s patient doctor relations.

Following close behind her in making the transition from foreign newsroom to Japanese media star, was Yoshiko Sakurai, who went on to anchor news at NTV for many years and remains a member today.

And finally, there is Claire Hollingworth, never a full FCCJ member, but a high profile Asia hand who was a treasured “Visitor Member” on her regular visits, and who turned 100 a couple of years ago. Young Claire followed a hunch and ventured to the Polish border to witness the Nazi invasion, giving the Daily Telegraph the first headline heralding the start of WWII. The best part is, we hear she is still holding court at the Hong Kong FCC, dispensing war stories and wisdom to her admirers.

Incredible role models, all . . . and certainly not just for women.

– The Shimbun Alley Whisperers