The Japan Times celebrated its 120th anniversary in style with a lively gathering at Cafe Maaru last weekend. As well as admin staff from its Tokyo office, in attendance were cultural attaches from the British, American and Australian consulates in Kansai, plus a number of writers, reporters and columnists. The whole event was put together by WiK member Eric Johnston, deputy editor and head of the Kansai office. It was quite a scoop since so far no such anniversary party is planned for Tokyo.
The newspaper began in late Meiji times, in 1897, with the explicit intent of easing misunderstanding between Japanese and foreign residents based in their enclaves of Tokyo, Yokohama and Kobe. The Unequal Treaties by which the foreign powers had imposed ‘extraterritoriality’ on Japan meant that foreigners were tried in separate courts and could escape Japanese justice. This was the cause of great friction and came to an end in 1899.
The Japan Times was set up with funding from major organisations, including the Bank of Japan, largely under the aegis of the influential thinker, Yukichi Fukuzawa. His relative, Sueji Yamada, became the first president of the company, and Motosada Zumoto, secretary for prime minister Hirobumi Ito, became the first editor-in-chief.
An earlier publication with the same name, started by an Englishman in 1865 in Yokohama, was incorporated into the new venture, as were The Japan Chronicle (British oriented) and The Japan Advertiser (American oriented). By the 1930s, all English language newspapers in Japan had been merged into one organ. It remains the only independent English language newspaper in Japan, with the current rivals being tied to their mother publications (Daily Yomiuri and Asahi).
In a moving speech full of rhetorical flourishes, Eric Johnston gave a memorable ‘Obamaesque’ reminder that in any age a vigilant press is vital to democracy, with the present times in particular need of an independent voice able to speak truth to authority. For writers in Kyoto, as for all expat authors, The Japan Times offers one of the few remaining platforms for informed and insightful articles. And in these dark days it continues to be a beacon of light in support of such humane ideals as justice, fairness and respect for differences.
Sadly, several other publications have not survived the changing economic conditions, and Kansai Time Out for instance has long since passed on (how good it was to see ex-proprietor David Jack and former editor, Dominic Al-Badri at the party). It is up to us readers and contributors to make sure that The Japan Times never goes the same way, for that would be a tragedy beyond contemplation. Let us rather pledge to ensure that by our financial and moral support The Japan Times lives on to enjoy another 120 years as ‘Japan’s window to the world’! As long as it survives, the spirit of mutual understanding and enrichment will surely live on too.