At the recent party to celebrate the 120th anniversary of The Japan Times (see here), the host and main speaker was Eric Johnston whose speech was dubbed the highlight of a glittering evening.  Here by popular demand is the talk he delivered, and our great thanks to him for supplying this fine piece of rhetoric. (For more about Eric, see here.)


By Eric Johnston, Deputy Editor, The Japan Times.
Osaka Office, May 26th, 2017

Good Evening. My name is Eric Johnston, and I’m deputy editor with The JT’s Osaka office. Thanks for coming out to help us celebrate the 120th anniversary of The Japan Times. I don’t want to bore you with a long speech, but allow me to take a few minutes to talk about the paper’s history.

When The Japan Times was founded in 1897, having an English language newspaper in Japan was not a new idea. In Kobe, the Hiogo News, the Hiogo and Osaka Herald, and the Kobe Chronicle had come and, in some cases, gone. Yokohama had The Japan Herald and the satirical Japan Punch among others. And in Tokyo, American journalist Edward H. House, an acquaintance of Mark Twain, published The Tokio Times in the late 1870s.

The goal of The Japan Times was to explain Japanese politics and diplomacy from a Japanese viewpoint, and to introduce Japanese culture to Western readers. In 1898, we ran adaptations of “Kanjincho’’, “The Revenge of the Soga Brothers’’, and “Terakoya’’ and published them in book form under the title Classical Tales of Old Japan. We believe that there are only about three copies of this book in existence today, including one here in Kyoto, at Kyoto University.

Via the international wire services, we provided coverage of major events abroad. When World War I ended on Nov. 11, 1918, there were celebrations nationwide. Here in Kyoto, legend has it that guests at the Miyako Hotel gave champagne toasts. I like to envision what it must have been like in the hotel’s main dining room and bar that day, full of Taisho Era dandies and ladies with copies of The Japan Times in hand, reading about the end of the war, getting roaring drunk, and dancing to the sounds of Al Jolson, Enrico Caruso, or to a popular song by Shinpei Nakayama.

When The Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 hit, it looked as if we might not survive. But we reappeared, in reduced size, four days after the quake struck on September 1st. Our offices destroyed, we relocated temporarily to the Imperial Hotel, one of the few buildings left standing and the center for expat life in Tokyo.

The 1930s and 1940s were a difficult time. Censorship was strong and the government forced other English papers to merge with the by-then quasi-official Japan Times. Unlike the Mainichi Shimbun, which hid a shortwave radio in the women’s restroom to secretly listen to overseas broadcasts, we did not have access to a “benjo wire service’’ and were strictly monitored. We also had to rename ourselves the Nippon Times.

The post-war era saw the Occupation with its own censorship requirements, but also prosperity that continued up to, and through, the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and 1970 Osaka Expo. It was in 1970 that The Japan Times opened its Osaka office. Technology was advancing, but reporters continued to use typewriters well into the 1980s. For those under the age of 30 who don’t know what a “typewriter’’ is, feel free to start Googling now!

Japan’s postwar success culminated in the 1980s. It was the era of “Japan As Number One’’, with unprecedented international interest in, and fear of, Japanese business practices. Our readership climbed as people from around the world came to Japan to study and work and Japanese went abroad like never before. It was the era of “internationalization’’, but also of every form of excess that would lead to the “lost decades’’ once the bubble economy crashed.

The 21st century has so far seen unprecedented political and social upheavals and accelerated climate change. In Japan it’s seen the devastating events of March 11, 2011 that we’re still dealing with. It’s also brought a technological revolution, especially in my field. Long gone are the days when, after filing a single story, a reporter headed off to the bar (tonight being an exception for some of us!). A 24-hour news cycle means daily deadlines, not a single deadline, and never really being off-duty. Journalism today is not a profession for those who prefer a routine 9 to 5 existence.

Yet in an era where anyone with an opinion, a conspiracy theory, and a website can call themselves a “journalist’’, real journalism is more vital than ever. Real journalism means reporting and editing by those who are careful, experienced, knowledgeable, fair-minded, and value the truth, even when it contradicts their own opinions. When it comes to the presentation of facts, real reporters and editors follow a simple rule: when in doubt, leave it out.

Somebody very wise once said: “Write when you’re drunk. Edit when you’re sober.’’ Sober journalism is not always as fun to read or as easy to turn out as plausible-sounding lies on a propaganda-site-disguised-as-media-outlet. But it’s critical for a diverse, intelligent, tolerant, and democratic society, a goal I know all of you share.

And that’s really who we at The Japan Times are writing for: you. All of you. We’re incredibly fortunate that you, our readers, are intelligent, curious about the world, and care deeply about a society that is just, fair, protects the weak as well as the strong, and values honest attempts to get at the truth. In these times, when parts of the world are turning away from such values, you are a pleasure to write for.

So I’ll end my presentation by saying, on behalf of all of us at The Japan Times, thank you. Thank you for being our readers and supporters. Thank you for having high standards, and thank you for always pushing us to do our best. If we have helped you understand Japan and the world, even – and especially – when you disagree with us, then we have done our job. Please continue to support us in the days, weeks, months, and years ahead.

Thank you very much.


For Eric’s piece on the need for foreign correspondents, please see here.

At the anniversary party panels were displayed with pages from past editions of The Japan Times, including front pages announcing the Tokyo earthquake and the death of Emperor Hirohito. Capturing the moment is author, Alex Kerr.