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You read about them here first

by Edan Corkill

Staff Writer

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:

Mr. Shigeru Yoshida, 1st secretary of embassy, and Mr. Shotaro Kurino, 3rd secretary, have been appointed secretaries of the embassies in London and Washington, respectively. (Wednesday, May 5, 1920)

During this two-year posting in London, and then during later postings as ambassador to Italy (1930-34) and then to Britain (1936-39), Yoshida developed a long-lasting fondness for things Western. Later, after war’s end in 1945, it was this same fondness that recommended him for the prime ministership in the eyes of the Occupation leaders in the Supreme Command of the Allied Powers.

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:

Indicative of the excitement in the British public aroused by the Japanese bombing operations against Chinese cities, it is reported that Mr. Shigeru Yoshida, Japanese ambassador to London, has received scores of letters of protest from various public organizations.

Competent observers stated, however, that such excitement in British opinion would soon subside if the Japanese authorities take timely action, showing by concrete examples to the British nation that Japanese aerial operations are strictly limited to military objectives. (Friday, Oct. 1, 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”:

With the conclusion of the final Olympic tryouts at the Harvard Stadium, Cambridge, (Massachusetts), the American Olympic team to compete later this year at Amsterdam is complete, according to the latest advices from New York.

Two hundred eighty-eight athletic stars will make up the American contingent which, it is expected, will give the Finns and the Germans the strongest opposition in the history of the Olympiad.

The make-up of the team, which Major-General Douglas MacArthur will be in charge of, is announced as follows … (Thursday, July 12, 1928)

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:

Today Dr. Sorge’s hobby is the study of history. Two periods in Japanese history he regards as the most interesting are the [late 16th century] Hideyoshi and Nobunaga period and the Meiji Era [1868-1912]. He had noted a remarkable similarity in the history of Western Europe and that of Japan in the Middle Ages. To cite but one instance, the role of the merchant classes, especially in Germany, was the same as it was here. This class was not permitted to wear multicolored dress and had other restrictions imposed on them, Sorge said.

Hiking is another of Dr. Sorge’s hobbies. “I love very much to go through the fields to see the planting and growing of rice and then the harvesting,” he said. “I am especially fond of seeing the everyday life of the peasants and I don’t forget that they are the hardest workers in the world and the lowest paid. I am fond of watching tiny children at play in the streets. I admire their healthy complexions and the way they are able to take care of themselves without disturbing their parents. My only regret is that their vigorous health is often greatly diminished in later years.” (Thursday, Dec. 6, 1934)

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:

On an extensive inspection trip of the military condition throughout Manchoukuo, Field-Marshal Prince Nashimoto arrived here [Dalian] this morning aboard the O.S.K. liner Kirin Maru. Upon arrival, His Imperial Highness immediately proceeded to the head office of the South Manchurian Railway, where he received representations of local military and administrative authorities in the Peer’s Reception Room. Those who were granted the honor included Lt.-Gen. Hideki Tojo, Chief of Staff of the Kwantung Army; Maj.-Gen. Keisuke Fujie, Commander of the Gendarmerie Corps … (Wednesday, May 19, 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”:

Frankly speaking, the reason for the nomination of the Lt.-Gen. Hideki Tojo [as War Minister] lies in “objective circumstances” with which Japan of today is confronted internally and internationally. “Action” rather than “argument” is being demanded under the current circumstances, to be followed by a pivotal change in Japan’s internal administration and foreign policies. The nomination of Lt.-Gen. Tojo from among many other more senior candidates can well be said to reflect such an atmosphere in the Army — where he is known as a “razor” for his acute intellect and quick decisions.

Born in 1884, the son of the late Lt.-Gen. Eikyo Tojo, a famous tactician in the Meiji Era, the War Minister-designate is now 56 years old. …

He distinguished himself as a great general in the current China Affair. It was on Aug. 2 and Oct. 14, 1937, that the Kwantung Army under his command achieved Kalgan and Pactow, important positions in Inner Mongolia. (Saturday, July 20, 1940)

Akira Kurosawa (1910-1998)

Film director

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:

It seems that the word “womanliness” has mystic powers over women. For ages, Japanese men have led Japanese women by the nose by means of this word, just as the feudalistic influence in this country has long kept the Japanese people under its control by exploiting the implications of the word “Japanese-like.”

Women ought to be womanly, of course, but when men talk of womanliness, they are apt to interpret it in a way convenient to their own sex …

Instead of moralizing on womanliness, I am inclined to urge Japanese women to try to seek their unshackled growth as free individuals, free from the obsessions of “womanliness.” No attitude is more negative than that of trying to look like something. So long as one persists in such an attitude, one can never hope to give one’s true character free play.

I hope women will use sufficient discernment and behave more naturally as human beings. True womanliness is to be found in women who act as their feminine instincts dictate. If women who imitate men’s ways are not womanlike, no more womanlike are those women who go out of character to be “womanly.”

Men were heard to complain loudly during the war that women had lost “womanliness” in their behavior, and they are now as loud in their complaints that women are abusing their new position of equality with men.

However, it is not very surprising if the revolutionary change that has occurred in women’s position through the grant of new rights so soon after the removal of the unbearably heavy strain which the unwarranted war inflicted on them has somewhat unbalanced women and driven them to act and think a little inordinately. They may be likened to a tumble-down bicycle on a very rough road. If it goes somewhat erratically, it cannot be helped. (Wednesday, July 16, 1947)

Donald Richie (1924-)

Critic, author
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:

Donald Richie, who was a feature writer and book and movie critic for the Pacific Stars and Stripes [U.S. forces newspaper] in Tokyo from 1946-49, until his departure for America in February of the same year, wrote, while in Japan, a series of essays on contemporary American culture and has had them published in book form in a very readable Japanese translation by his close literary friend, Mr. Sho Kajima.

It is the first book of its kind to appear in postwar Japan in more than one sense. First, it is the first systematized introduction of living American culture. Second, the book is completely objective in approach, with no hazy generalizations or abstractions or pretensions. While obviously a proficient writer of some critical penetration, the author takes care to introduce not his own ideas, but those of the individual works of art and their authors.

Last, and perhaps most important, Richie’s book is a challenge to the conventionalized concepts of American culture. It destroys the idea of American culture as something flabby and gives the more vital and serious side of America’s artistic endeavors, the side that really matters.

He negates, for instance the idea that strip-tease and jazz are typical of American entertainment any more than they are Japanese. He also rejects the idea that American literature is made up of Pearl Buck, Margaret Mitchell, Willa Cather, etc. — the familiar prewar authors to Japanese.

The 25-year-old author wishes his book to be read particularly by Japanese students. Not only by reason of his age, but by the nature of his outlook and critical criterion, he belongs to the generation of Norman Mailer in literature, Tennessee Williams in drama, Leonard Bernstein in music and Orson Welles in movies. If the author has a message to put across, it is this: That America is trying to produce a real work of art in all fields of artistic endeavors, independent of both old aestheticism (which means dried-up realism) and commercialism. (Sunday, Feb. 19, 1950)

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:

We’ve grown accustomed since the war to Japanese companies importing foreign techniques and patents to update their technology.

The other day, I sat down with two executives of such a firm, expecting to hear a more or less familiar story. Instead, it turned out to be a fascinating account of home-grown technological advancement — a shining rebuttal of the common argument that Japan can’t do anything except copy.

Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo is the firm. A couple of years ago it was licensed by [U.S.-based] Western Electric to produce transistors — those tiny, rugged electronic gadgets that are rapidly making the conventional radio tube obsolete. Tokyo Tsushin is now turning out hearing aids and portable radios fitted with transistors.

But if this was all that Tokyo Tsushin was doing, we wouldn’t be writing this story. For in the brief span of two years, this firm has done enough original research to put it ahead of its American teacher.

According to its managing director, Akio Morita, all Tokyo Tsushin got when it started work on transistors was a data book describing the fundamentals of transistor production and operation. At that time, the field was so new that no one in the industry was quite sure even what to do with transistors.

Tokyo Tsushin then put its engineers and physicists to work, and a fantastic array of knotty production problems was gradually eliminated.

But where the firm has really pioneered is in finding applications for transistors. What is probably the smallest portable radio with a loudspeaker in the world will be on the market early next year.

Even Tokyo Tsushin’s physicists don’t know where the trail will end. Every vacuum tube is potentially replaceable with a more efficient transistor. A portable television set may become a reality.

Tokyo Tsushin has demonstrated a happy fact: Given a determined and highly skilled staff, plus enough capital to forego immediate returns, a Japanese company can advance as rapidly in applied research as its foreign competitors. (Wednesday, Nov. 28, 1956)

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:

For six days from Aug. 7 through 12, many spectators could be seen at the Karuizawa Kai Lawn Tennis Club to witness its Handicap Tournament. Though you may not play yourself, it is great sport to watch the vivacious Fritzie Nishikawa swish her abbreviated pleated skirts while expertly placing the ball; to see the very lovely looking Mary Tamaki both on the courts and in the stands being her very nice self; to feel the disappointment of every spectator when the handsome and good-natured Tony Kobayashi netted a ball; to be proud of Yoshie Nishikawa for winning the boy’s singles for the last time; to admire Takayoshi Saigo for winning the men’s singles and mixed doubles with outstanding plays; and to watch the steady sure placement of shots by Michiko Shoda, who won the women’s singles, women’s and mixed doubles. (Wednesday, Aug. 17, 1955)

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:

Shigeo Nagashima, third-baseman of Rikkyo University, was named the leading hitter of the Big 6 Universities League of the Spring season. He batted 48 times and smashed 22 hits for a .458 batting average. (Thursday, June 7, 1956)

Nagashima’s exploits continued in this vein through 1957, when he helped Rikkyo to win the Big 6 title:

Rikkyo captured the Tokyo Big 6 collegiate baseball championship 2-1 yesterday by beating a stubborn Keio nine at Meiji Shrine Ball Park before 45,000 frenzied fans.

A daring home steal in the third inning by left-fielder Yasushi Asai proved to be the clinching tally.

With one out, shortstop Kingo Motoyashiki singled to left in the third inning. He was thrown out at second for the second out following a fumble of an infield fly hit by Takashashi. Asai next drew a base on ball, advancing Takahashi to second.

Rikkyo’s clean-up batter, third-baseman Shigeo Nagashima, then rapped a sharp single between second and first to send in Takahashi across the plate. Keio’s right-fielder fumbled the ball and Asai raced to third with Nagashima taking second … . (Tuesday, June 4, 1957)

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.

Issey’s new boutique opened this past week with a showing of his fall collection modeled by fashion and art-world friends, plus a quick run-through of what’s in the boutique now — for an audience that was a showing in itself, packed with fashion-world personalities who attended in a burst of generosity to applaud the success of one of their own … .

Surprise of the night were some of those who modeled the advance collection, among them poet Takahashi, Wacoal president Tsukamoto, painter and Afghanistan specialist Taisaku Kai, choreographer Maxine Sakata, Chanel’s Francoise Morechand and Art Parco’s art director, Eiko Ishioka — “my special friend,” Issey mentioned later … . (Thursday, July 1, 1976)

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:

Eiko Ishioka’s stage is a big uncluttered unit-box with moving panels which she fills with portable props and sumptuous costumes — real leather and fur and gold lamé and silk. Her Elsinore is a luxurious place where everyone has too much money and not enough to do. The strolling players are from the sybaritical South and are all in Bedouin silks, while the army of Fortinbras is from the far North and covered with pelts and bronzes. There is always something to look at. (Sunday, Sept. 19, 1976)

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.

  • Bradley Bartz

    1865 September-1870 Japan Times published by Charles Rickerby in Yokohama.

    It is always strange to me that the Foreign roots of The Japan Times is ignored. The history of Japan is filled with innovations by gaijin that get reported as innovations done by Japanese.

    Does is matter? Guess not.

  • DA

    Great article! More of the same, please. Wish I could dig into that archive myself…