Her achievement is nothing special, she says. But the thing that has kept Chieko Akiyama going throughout her unprecedented career is the human energy radiating from the people she meets.
“Akiyama Chieko no Danwa Shitsu” (“Chieko Akiyama’s Lounge”), the monologue radio program hosted for the last 45 years by the 85-year-old critic, will end with the Oct. 4 show.
She will have spoken 12,512 times on the world’s longest-running radio program, which has aired on weekdays since 1957.
“People say these records are great,” said Akiyama quietly. “But what I’ve done is nothing glorious nor ostentatious. I have mostly talked about the lives of ordinary people from their viewpoints, which I believe is most important for the media in reporting.
“I have gotten so much power and stimulation from the people I have met in Japan and abroad for the program,” said Akiyama. She has covered such diverse issues as politics, books, local community happenings and the daily lives of people in various occupations.
For each show, Akiyama does almost everything on her own — from selecting a topic and gathering information on it to writing a script and talking about it for six minutes and 10 seconds.
She was the first media personality in Japan to do all this in a serial radio or TV program.
Akiyama, who hails from Miyagi Prefecture, first taught at a school for the deaf after graduating from the predecessor of Ochanomizu University in Tokyo. She joined the world of broadcasting, while still working at the school, by reading aloud children’s stories she had written.
She quit her jobs, however, after getting married in 1940.
“I was an ordinary woman. I wanted to be a good wife and mother,” said Akiyama, who has three children.
What turned her into an extraordinary person was the war. It devastated the nation but also brought about drastic changes in Japanese society, particularly for women.
She resumed her broadcasting career in 1948 when she was asked to do a program for the General Headquarters’ Civil Information and Education Section, which supervised education and the media in Japan.
The GHQ program, titled “Kaigi no Susumekata” (“How to Organize a Meeting”), was launched to help the Japanese public understand how to conduct meetings. Akiyama says she informed readers on the proper methods of selecting a chairman, giving participants the chance to voice their opinions and changing the subject of discussions.
“The program was intended to educate Japanese women, who gained the right to vote in 1945,” Akiyama explained.
In 1949, Akiyama began traveling around the country to report on what she saw and heard. She also began appearing in TV programs about half a century ago, when commercial TV stations in Japan were first set up.
Among the topics she discussed, peace-building was high on the list.
“I have planted a number of tiny seeds in an effort to prevent war. One of the seeds has grown to be big,” Akiyama said, referring to the story “Kawaiso na Zo” (“The Pitiful Elephant”).
The nonfiction piece, written by Yukio Tsuchiya, is the story of an elephant that starved to death at Tokyo’s Ueno Zoo during World War II.
Akiyama first introduced the story in her program 35 years ago, provoking major reactions. That prompted her to retell the story every Aug. 15, the anniversary of Japan’s defeat in the war. The book, which was out of print then, is back in print and has sold more than 1 million copies.
“I know war. We must do everything to prevent another. We must do every possible thing not to allow another,” she emphasized.
Asked why she has decided to draw the curtain on her radio program, Akiyama said, “All things have their end. I want to put an end to the program while I am healthy and sound enough to control myself.” The program’s conclusion, however, does not mean she will remain quietly at home.
“I am fortunate in that I have a large network of people — the fruits of my long career — that keeps me busy doing a variety of things, including volunteer social activities.”
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