KYOTO – Katsuya Soda, a 46-year-old former comedian, has been hosting a radio program in Kyoto for refugees in Japan for nearly 10 years since February 2004.
“Hi everyone, how are you today?” Soda asks listeners of Nanmin Now!, a program that starts at 7 p.m. each Saturday, broadcasting from the Kyoto Sanjo Radio Cafe studio.
Soda uses the six-minute show on the community FM station to showcase refugees and supporters who are asked to participate as guest speakers. They are asked to explain the problems they face in everyday life or what assistance they need.
Soda said he wants to make the program “as familiar as the weather report,” hoping that people in Japan will see the problems that refugees face as one of the everyday issues around them.
The native of Kyoto has loved comedy since childhood. He was once a member of the Yoshimoto Shinkigeki comedy theatrical troupe in Osaka.
He occasionally performed on stage, but saw little prospect of attaining a regular position and left at the age of 30.
Soda said he had not been particularly interested in refugee issues until he happened to take part in a civic seminar where their lives were discussed.
Listening to their stories, Soda was reminded of his own boyhood days when he had to live apart from his parents after they separated.
“There were some crossovers between my experience and theirs like the agony of being away from families or homelands,” he said.
As he wondered what the best way of addressing refugee issues would be, he came up with a radio program after reading a book by former U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata, who emphasized the importance of continuing to draw attention to the plight of refugees.
Soda then phoned scores of people he found by reading the newspapers and asked them to guest star on his show.
In the course of getting to know the refugees, including one from Myanmar who is studying at a university in Japan, Soda began to change his perspective.
He said he used to think that refugees deserved only his sympathy. But now he admires them as well.
Soda has vowed to continue airing the show until refugee issues are resolved, although he sees little sign of that happening any time soon.