Rebutting Mikie Kiyoi’s Claims - No1 Shimbun/Opinion - November 30, 1999

Who is entirely free of journalistic fault?

By Gregory Clark

Full marks to Mikie Kiyoi for her efforts to shake up the gaijin media here. That said, she should also admit that foreign correspondents here are not entirely hopeless. Despite limited numbers, they churn out a lot more than their Japanese equivalents abroad. The occasional mistake is inevitable, even if unforgivable.

Lack of language ability is an unfortunate fact. But again, quite a few Japanese journalists abroad have only so-so English ability, and they do not have the excuse of lacking intensive education from an early age.

Where the gaijin media are mainly amiss is in using their lack of Japanese ability as an excuse for failing to cover the range of sources in this very talkative, print-happy society. They share the herd-instinct mentality of Japanese mainstream media that says if a scandal is not put there in front of their eyes, then it did not happen. And when it is in front of their eyes they often get it wrong.

The classic example is the Club’s October 1974 screw-up over a not very important Bungei Shunju article deliberately aimed to unseat then then Prime Minister, Kakuei Tanaka, which had been reported by Newsweek. Another is No 1 Shimbun’s bleat about not being able to get former Defense Agency Vice-Minister, Shingo Nishimura, to come to the Club to flesh out his Playboy interview remarks about nuclear arms for Japan. A brief check of small-issue rightwing or military magazines here carrying the text of an earlier speech by Nishimura to the military community here would have provided copy both more immediate and far more sizzling than anything he would have said at the Club.

Nor are Kiyoi-san and her former employers in the Foreign Ministry entirely free of journalistic fault either. They say they want us gaijin to be better informed about Japan. But when we do just that that we get brickbats rather than bouquets.

I remember vividly being dressed down in the Gaimusho briefing room many years ago for reporting Shintaro Ishihara’s very important June 1974 Bungei Shunju article about Tanaka’s “money politics” (which had not been reported by Newsweek). Meanwhile the news-stand immediately outside the Ministry was selling a Japanese magazine giving chapter and verse on Takana’s involvement in a Seoul subway ripoff scandal.

Did the Gaimusho briefer know about the subway story, I asked, and if so what was the official response. He replied archly that he did not stoop to reading scandal magazines.

Only a year or so ago, at the height of the Yarnaguchi-gumi gangster scandals, I got roughly the same treatment from Kiyoi-san, then still with the Gaimusho. Former senior LDP politician, Eitaro Itoyama, had a signed article in a fairly obscure magazine, boasting how he did not have to spend money for elections since he and some of his friends simply relied on the Yamaguchi people to bring out the voters. Since this was very relevant to the US-Japan dispute over port handling charges at the time, I ran it in the International Herald Tribune. For my pains, I
got a sharp, official slap over the knuckles from none other than Kiyoi-san, for seeking to highlight such filth and failing to mention that most Japanese were good, law-biding citizens.

I replied saying that precisely because the good, law-abiding citizens of Japan, like her, did not want to expose this kind of filth, it would fester on for ever. For once in her feisty career, she lapsed into silence.

In fact, I had not gone out of my way to give the story international coverage. I had originally wanted to put it in a regular column I had with the Japan Economic Weekly. But they had refused to run it, for much the same reasons as Kiyoi-san.

Japan’s reluctance to admit other ‘filth,’ like wartime atrocities at Nanjing and elsewhere is part of the same picture.

The foreigners in Japan are not the only ones who need to clean up their journalistic act.