Ever since 1897 The Japan Times has reported daily in English on people, places and goings-on in and beyond this country. During those 116 years, our articles have often included information that never made it into the Japanese-language press — as in 1934, when the Society Page carried an interview with a German journalist named Richard Sorge — a full seven years before he made headlines having been exposed as a Soviet spy; or the routine report we ran on a young woman’s victory in a small tennis tournament in 1955 — some four years before she became the new Crown Princess (now Empress) Michiko.
The potential for discoveries such as these in the archives of The Japan Times is limitless, though unearthing such gems has always involved time-consuming trawls through brittle bound copies or fragile spools of microfilm.
Now, though, with the imminent launch of the newspaper’s first-ever digital archive, we believe whole new and exciting vistas will open up of particular interest to historians or others concerned with this country over a period that straddles three centuries.
Titled “The Japan Times Digital Archive,” this searchable trove of information — which amounts to an English-language version of the first draft of Japan’s modern history — will, in the coming months, become available to the public at the National Diet Library in Tokyo. Thereafter, other libraries and academic institutions both in Japan and abroad will also likely follow suit.
To commemorate this landmark event in the newspaper’s history, we are pleased to present here 10 carefully selected articles (from innumerable contenders) relating the exploits of some of Japan’s best-known figures. Making them even more special, though, is the fact that we set out to pin down the earliest references in our pages to these luminaries — with the aim of throwing fascinating new light on early aspects of their careers.
So here they are, in the chronological order in which they were first introduced to Japan Times readers …
Shigeru Yoshida (1878-1967)
First mention in the Japan Times: Wednesday, May 5, 1920
As prime minister from 1946-47, and again from 1948-54, Shigeru Yoshida’s legacy can be summed up as the so-called Yoshida Doctrine, meaning his two-pronged prescription for a war-crippled nation: feverish economic development coupled with reliance on the United States for defense.
And there is no better indication of Yoshida’s place in Japan’s history than the fact that his doctrine remains more or less in place to this day — notwithstanding recent calls for it to change.
However, long before Yoshida rose to front-page prominence in the postwar period, he already had a stellar career as a diplomat. After graduating from Tokyo Imperial University (today’s University of Tokyo), he joined the Foreign Ministry in 1906 and, as he rose through the ranks, his various appointments and other activities became the fodder of short pieces on this newspaper’s internationally minded pages.
The first such mention, and the first time the JT’s typesetters ever arranged the letters S-h-i-g-e-r-u Y-o-s-h-i-d-a, was this:
Still, back in the late 1930s as war clouds were building, Yoshida’s three-year stint in London must have been a bittersweet experience for the diplomat. Reports in The Japan Times paint a picture of his being on the receiving end of growing British anger in response to Japan’s military excursion in China after 1937:
Needless to say, such “competent observers” expected Yoshida and his colleagues to sell the unsellable, and the longer Japan’s war in China continued, the more criticism of Japan in Britain grew.
Douglas MacArthur (1880-1964)
U. S. Army
First mention in the Japan Times: Wednesday, July 30, 1924
If only Japan Times readers in the 1920s could have guessed what a crucial role Douglas MacArthur would come to play in their lives. Having attained the rank of general in the U.S. Army, the war hero was appointed Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers in Japan in 1945, and remained in post until 1951. Widely viewed by Japanese during that period as a godlike figure, among Westerners he was dubbed the Gaijin (Foreigner) Shogun.
But all that was in the distant future when MacArthur made his first appearance in The Japan Times on July 30, 1924, when it was recorded that the then-Brig. Gen. was overseeing the “largest court-martial ever held by the American army.” The accused were 209 Philippine Scouts alleged to have mutinied out of discontent over benefits accrued to them during service with the U.S. Army’s Philippine Division, which MacArthur headed.
In 1925, MacArthur’s promotion to major-general — at age 44, the army’s youngest officer awarded that rank — took him to Washington, where he spent a decade as a desk warrior. Then, in 1935, he returned to the Philippines, where, as Field Marshal of the Philippine Army, he set about preparing for a then already-anticipated confrontation with Japan.
Aside from his military postings during that decade in America from 1925-35, however, contemporary readers might be surprised to learn of his second-ever reference in these pages — when he figured in an article headlined, “U.S. Olympic team is now complete”:
MacArthur’s little-known foray into the sports world followed the sudden death in 1927 of William C. Prout, president of the American Olympic Committee. The general was recommended for the position of stand-in AOC president because the committee had been impressed by his incorporation of sports into the curriculum at West Point during a stint there as superintendent from 1919-22. And by all accounts, MacArthur was successful in the AOC role: His team took home from Amsterdam a total of 22 gold medals — far more than the Finns (eight) or the Germans (10).
Richard Sorge (1895-1944)
Journalist, diplomat, spy
First mention in the Japan Times: Thursday, Dec. 6, 1934
Come the mid 1950s and the name Richard Sorge would make headlines the world over. “Most successful spy in World War II,” is how many postwar commentators described him.
They were probably right. Having arrived in Japan in 1933, for the next eight years the Soviet agent brought up in Germany operated an extraordinarily well-connected ring of informers who fed him information not only from within Japanese government and military circles, but also about Nazi Germany, whose Tokyo embassy he personally infiltrated.
Indeed, Sorge may well have helped change the course of World War II. In 1941, his well-founded information, passed to Moscow, that Japan was unlikely to attack the U.S.S.R.’s eastern flank allowed the Soviets to concentrate their forces in the West — and thus, eventually, defeat Hitler.
That same year, though, Sorge’s espionage career came to an abrupt end when his radio transmissions to Russia were intercepted and traced. After a brief trial, he was found guilty and sentenced to hang. He was executed in 1944.
But such events were still way over the horizon when Sorge — who worked as a bona fide journalist for German publications, even as he spied in Japan — made his first appearance in The Japan Times. In December 1934, he was featured in the unlikely environs of a regular column titled Hobnobbing with the Foreign Correspondents.
With hindsight, it is possible to perceive in some of Sorge’s answers what might be called “communist leanings.” But, for whatever reason, our hobnobbing scribe’s suspicions went unaroused:
Hideki Tojo (1884-1948)
War Minister, Prime Minister
First mention in the Japan Times: Wednesday, May 19, 1937
The rise of career soldier Hideki Tojo to the very top echelons of power in Japan through the 1930s and early ’40s was anything but a bolt from the blue, since, after graduating from the Japanese Military Academy in 1905, he was named bureau chief of the army in 1928 and promoted to the rank of major-general in 1933.
Yet for JT readers, his emergence must have seemed meteoric. Their first contact with the name that would later come to represent infamy in the eyes of the West was in this very brief note from 1937:
It wasn’t long after that before Tojo himself began to be the focus of our writers’ reports. In fact, just seven JT-mentions later, in July 1940, he was appointed War Minister, and readers were introduced to him in more detail under the ominous headline: “Need for action dictates War Minister choice”:
Akira Kurosawa (1910-1998)
First mention in the Japan Times: Wednesday, July 16, 1947
Director Akira Kurosawa is best known for films that feature tough and resourceful men: “Rashomon” (1950), “The Seven Samurai” (1954), “Yojimbo” (1961) and many more. Odd to think, then, that his debut in The Japan Times was with an essay he penned on the nature of “womanliness.”
Perhaps because the essay appeared in 1947, four years before his breakout film “Rashomon” won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, our editors didn’t feel the need to even identify their scribe as a film director.
Under the headline “Womanliness: a ‘must’ even in this new age” — with a subhead reading, “But this feminine virtue not former idea of subservience” — Kurosawa took umbrage at those of his own gender who, it seems, were grumbling about what they saw as women’s overenthusiastic embrace of Article 24 of the nation’s then brand-new Constitution, which established full rights for women in all matters dealing with marriage and family. Such men apparently worried that Japan’s womanhood was losing its “womanliness.” Enter Kurosawa:
Donald Richie (1924-)
First mention in the Japan Times: Sunday, Feb. 19, 1950
Donald Richie will be familiar to readers of The Japan Times as one of our greatest film and, later, literature critics. In addition, the many books he has authored have further bolstered his reputation as one of the foremost introducers of contemporary Japanese culture to the West.
Ironic it is, then, that Richie’s first reference in this publication was actually about his efforts in the opposite direction. The following is a review of “Gendai America Geijutsu-ron (Essays on Contemporary American Literature, Drama and Cinema),” a book Richie wrote in English that was translated into Japanese for the local market:
Incidentally, this review was written by JT critic Foumi Saisho, who four years later would play a key role in facilitating Richie’s return to Japan as the newspaper’s film critic.
Akio Morita (1921-99)
Businessman, cofounder of Sony
First mention in the Japan Times: Wednesday, Nov. 28, 1956
Readers of the Japan Times were introduced to the electronics company Sony long before it was known by that name.
A 1956 article described what was then Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo along with one of its now-legendary founders, Akio Morita, in an adulatory explication of the company’s work on the transistor radio. The article, which alludes to but does not mention by name the other founder, Masaru Ibuka, goes a long way toward predicting the future product lines of the company, whose name was changed to Sony in 1958:
Michiko Shoda (1934-)
Since 1989, Empress Michiko
First mention in the Japan Times: Wednesday, Aug. 17, 1955
Michiko Shoda first shot to national prominence in 1957, when it became clear that the heir to the Chrysanthemum Throne, Crown Prince Akihito, had taken an interest in this 23-year-old he had recently met on the tennis courts of Karuizawa, a fashionable highland resort in Nagano Prefecture. From that point, rumors swirled of a possible marriage — speculation that was confirmed in November 1958, when the couple’s engagement was announced.
But readers of The Japan Times had a considerable head start when it came to news of Miss Shoda’s exploits. It was back in 1955, when she was just 20, that she was first introduced in our pages in the following story that formed part of a regular section titled Karuizawa Social Roundup:
Of course, come 1958 and coverage of Miss Shoda’s tennis prowess was eclipsed by breathless talk of the wedding and, in particular, one of its more important aspects — the fact that she would become the first commoner to marry an heir to the throne. We announced that news to the world on Friday, Nov. 28, 1958 — with a giant headline splashed across the front page, reading: “Commoner to be Akihito’s bride.”
Shigeo Nagashima (1936- )
Baseball player, manager
First mention in the Japan Times: Monday, Dec. 12, 1955
Another whose sporting prowess won them mention in The Japan Times at an early age was Shigeo Nagashima, a baseball prodigy who, from 1965 through 1973 helped the Yomiuri Giants win nine straight Central League championships before, much later, becoming one of the team’s most successful managers of all time.
The man who came to be known as “Mr. Giants” made a fitting JT debut while still a student at Rikkyo University, when he first began shining in the Tokyo Big 6 Baseball League, which included Rikkyo, Hosei, Keio, Meiji, Tokyo and Waseda universities.
A footnote to an article recording Waseda’s triumph in the 1956 Spring tournament includes this report of jaw-dropping batting prowess:
Nagashima’s exploits continued in this vein through 1957, when he helped Rikkyo to win the Big 6 title:
By November 1957, the JT was routinely describing Nagashima as “the best college ball player in postwar Japan”; and our scribes then followed him closely as he was courted and signed for ¥18 million by the Yomiuri Giants in what was then the most lucrative contract in Japanese baseball history.
Eiko Ishioka (1938-2012)
Art director, costume/stage designer
First mention in the Japan Times: Thursday, July 1, 1976
Eiko Ishioka died late last year, and tributes to her are still pouring in. Earlier this month she was nominated posthumously by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for her work on the costumes for last year’s “Mirror Mirror,” a U.S. film directed by Tarsem Singh and based on the Brothers Grimm story, “Snow White.”
If she wins that award, it will be her second Oscar. Her first came in 1992, for the costumes she created for “Bram Stoker’s Dracula.”
Ishioka had been working on Hollywood film productions since the 1980s, when she relocated to New York. Prior to that, she had a long and illustrious career in Tokyo, where she was a well-known graphic designer, art director and stage designer for the likes of the Parco department store. Her first mention in The Japan Times dates from this period, when she appeared in an article on the Society Page describing the opening of fashion designer Issey Miyake’s new Tokyo boutique.
Two months later, Issey’s “special friend” was doing the art direction for a new and thoroughly modernized production of “Hamlet” directed by Koichi Kimura and hosted by Parco. It was described in these pages as follows:
And if readers sense they recognize that economical prose, it might be because it came from the pen of Donald Richie, whose remit in actuality extended far beyond even film and books.
Readers interested to learn more about The Japan Times’ digital archive, which is available now on Blu-ray Discs, should visit jtimes.jp/de.