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One of the first things Tokyoites who relocate to Osaka notice is that, while their favorite mainstream media news source is available in both cities, the tone and often substance of the reporting is different.

It’s a cliche among Japan watchers that “Japanese newspapers and TV news are all the same.” Yes, one sees the similarities easier than the differences. But it’s equally false to imply that readers of the five major newspapers or viewers of the major TV networks receive exactly the same views about the same subjects.

Fundamentally, Tokyo journalism emphasizes a “bird’s-eye view” of news topics, and encourages a dry, and often humorless, tone about major events. How can one be possibly taken seriously when discussing serious topics unless one is, well, serious?

There are, of course, advantages to bird’s-eye journalism. Breadth and width for starters. Journalists are, by nature, generalists. The Tokyo-style of journalism, at its best, encourages a wide variety of basic knowledge about different subjects, especially those of comparatively little interest to the Osaka journalism philosophy: politics and international affairs.

Too many Osaka reporters, editors and producers simply don’t care about what’s happening in the halls of power in Tokyo, let alone abroad. And when confronted with a Tokyo-style journalism critique of themselves that is far deeper than the usual clever but politically correct comments and cliches in local media, they become thin-skinned.

In a recent TV Osaka program about the city, its politics and how it was viewed by the outside world, Tokyo-based journalist Akira Ikegami provided a cool, somewhat verbose and yet concise analysis of Osaka. The Osaka commentators who sat alongside Ikegami attempted to make light of the report’s more critical comments at first. But as his detailed — and extremely accurate — analysis continued, a couple of panelists grew visibly annoyed at Ikegami’s style. “Well, it can’t be helped,” grumbled one of the Osaka-based tarento, after interviews were shown with foreign visitors about Osakans’ notoriously bad manners.

The disadvantage of bird’s-eye journalism is that it overlooks important details and can lack the human touch. Defenders of Tokyo-style journalism might retort that their reporting style is “cool,” “dispassionate,” and “objective.” However, that can sometimes feel “cold,” “boring,” and “detached” to a lot of people in Osaka (as well as in Tohoku, Okinawa and among foreign readers of Japanese news).

Osaka journalism, by contrast, traditionally offers a “bug’s-eye view” of the world, focusing on various crimes, follies, tragedies and victories of ordinary people. At its best, traditional Osaka-style journalism is progressive on human rights issues and sometimes more sensitive to the country’s ethnic and cultural minorities than the Tokyo media.

In 2012, Shukan Asahi was forced to apologize to Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto after it ran a cover story titled “Hashishita yatsu no honsho” (“The true nature of Hashishita” — the kanji for Hashimoto’s name can also be read as “Hashishita,” and that’s how it used to be pronounced in traditional buraku communities). Hashimoto, who has buraku roots, took offense at what he felt was discrimination on the part of the magazine.

Why did Shukan Asahi use “Hashishita”? Theories abound. However, veteran Osaka journalists quietly say that an editor from Osaka would have been more sensitive to the history of buraku discrimination than a clueless Tokyoite, and the word “Hashishita” would have not been used. Not, at least, in that way.

Ironically, the Japanese-language newspaper that perhaps best represents the progressive, and sometimes cheeky, spirit of traditional Osaka journalism is the Tokyo Shimbun. It has a growing reputation for providing a bug’s-eye view of the details with a bird’s-eye analysis, proving the best journalism is, in fact, a combination of both styles.

View from Osaka is a monthly column that examines the latest news from a Kansai perspective.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
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