For Michiteru Takagi, 76, Sunday will signal the end of a daily ritual he has practiced for 42 years.
On that day, Vatican Radio ceases its Japanese-language service. Takagi has been a technical monitor of the religious station since it began its Japan broadcasts on Feb. 17, 1959.
The Japanese service is the first of a number of Vatican Radio’s 34 language programs to be shut down over several years due to financial problems in the papal state. The station plans to relaunch its Japanese service over the Internet.
“The cessation is regrettable, as I am myself a Catholic. But the transition to the Internet is probably inevitable because the broadcasts on shortwave are often difficult to hear,” said Takagi, who lives in Tokyo.
Vatican Radio is joining a list of declining shortwave broadcasts in this cyber age, although shortwave still seems useful to send information to and from some parts of Asia.
Vatican Radio’s move follows the discontinuation of the Japanese-language transmission of HCJB, the Voice of the Andes, an evangelical station based in the Ecuadorean capital Quito, at the end of last year.
HCJB’s Japanese service was launched in 1964 for the benefit of Japanese immigrants to South America. The station started broadcasting to Japan the following year.
Kazuo Ozaki of HCJB’s Japanese section said the role of shortwave has decreased. For example, Japanese immigrants in South America can now watch the same television programs as viewers in Japan via satellite TV, he said. HCJB plans to launch its Japanese service over the Internet in April.
The number of Japanese-language foreign broadcasts in Japan peaked in 1985 at 23 stations. By the time Vatican Radio turns off its transmitter, that number will be 16.
The major Western international broadcasters have all given up their shortwave transmissions in Japanese. Voice of America ended its Japanese service in 1970. Radio Australia followed suit in 1990, as did British Broadcasting Corp. and Radio Canada International in 1991.
Deutsche Welle, the German international broadcaster, halted its Japanese-language programming in 1999 under a drastic restructuring plan caused by government budget cuts.
“The Internet and diversified media are now in Japan providing the latest knowledge about other countries, and shortwave is not essential. Shortwave listening is a personal hobby in Japan, and there are not many enthusiasts,” said Setsuro Kitayama, a Radio Japan news desk employee who specializes in the history of international broadcasting.
BBC claims 151 million people listen to its World Service broadcasts every week. Worldwide, shortwave listening is still growing and accounts for more than 70 percent of its listeners, the BBC said in its 2000 annual review. Thirty-two of the BBC’s 43 language services are now also available via the Internet.
VOA, which in 1994 became the first international broadcaster to offer programs across the Internet, is available online in 53 languages.
Kitayama adds that international shortwave broadcasts, including Japanese-language ones, were tools of psychological warfare during World War II and the Cold War.
VOA, BBC, Radio Australia and Radio Moscow all inaugurated their Japanese services during World War II. Japanese-language broadcasts of China Radio International’s predecessor went on the air in 1941 from a cave in Yanan, Shaanxi Province, the then stronghold of the Chinese Communist Party.
Kitayama said shortwave is still a useful medium for other parts of Asia to send messages to Japan.
China, Taiwan, North and South Korea, Mongolia, Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand all transmit Japanese programs on shortwave.
North Korea comes top in terms of daily broadcasting, with eight hours a day, followed by China with six hours and Taiwan and South Korea with four hours each.
Pyongyang — which has no diplomatic relations with Tokyo — places great importance on its Japanese-language service because it also reaches Korean residents of Japan, said Noriyuki Suzuki, director of Radiopress Inc.
Radiopress is a news agency that monitors broadcasts around the clock from China, Taiwan, Russia, Vietnam and North Korea. The Japanese program of Radio Pyongyang, which changed its name to the Voice of Korea on Feb. 16, is the station’s longest daily transmission among its eight foreign-language services.
North Korea’s foreign broadcasts are traditional forms of propaganda with the style and content of Cold War programming, says Suzuki, who specializes in North Korean affairs.
Shortwave broadcasts that only require relatively simple equipment to receive audio signals will continue to be useful political tools, Kitayama said.
Although Soviet jamming of Western broadcasts ceased with the end of the Cold War, East Asia continues to be an airwave battle ground and foreign broadcasts are often jammed to block undesirable information.
China jams Taiwan’s stations, VOA, U.S.-funded Radio Free Asia, BBC and World Falun Dafa Radio, the station of the Falun Gong movement. North Korea jams South Korean stations, VOA and RFA, and Vietnam jams RFA.
RFA, which broadcasts in 10 languages to Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar and North Vietnam, was founded in 1996 to be a “forum for a variety of opinions and voices from within Asian nations whose people do not fully enjoy freedom of expression.” In 1999, RFA began broadcasting 24 hours a day to China.
According to the Tibet Information Network’s February newsletter, China has stepped up the jamming of Tibetan-language broadcasts of VOA, RFA and the Voice of Tibet, a Norway-based exile station.
As well as being a source of information on events taking place in the outside world, many Tibetans rely on these broadcasts to find out what is happening in other areas of Tibet, a useful alternative to the officially sanctioned views presented by Chinese state media, the London-based organization said.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.