Information, tips and advice for journalists travelling to Japan for work.
The Japanese constitution guarantees the freedom of the press and prohibits censorship, although the press is sometimes accused of self-censorship and of failing to properly scrutinise industry and the government. The correspondents of Japan’s main newspapers, broadcasters and news agencies are organised into exclusive journalist groups, known as kisha clubs, which are attached to ministries, government agencies, the police, the Bank of Japan, the LDP and others. Foreign reporters and representatives of smaller Japanese media were traditionally excluded from most kisha clubs and, although this is gradually changing, without the proper accreditation it can be still be difficult to gain access to such areas as law courts and the police. The close association between journalists and those whose activities and goals they are expected to examine has led to accusations of a cosy and collaborative relationship.
These days, however, so many other sources of information are available (even without Japanese language ability) that exclusion from the kisha clubs, while not very democratic, does not appear to be a major handicap.
In March 2005, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) officially requested all government agencies to allow bearers of the MOFA Foreign Press ID card entrance to their on-the-record press conferences. This is a good example of how the system can actually work in your favour, if you have the right accreditation.
According to Jason Testar in the online Japan Media Review, ‘the essential challenge of newsgathering in Japan remains unchanged… those reporters who remain have to dig to find real content’.
The Japanese are among the most avid newspaper readers in the world, with total circulation topping 70 million a day. Several large national newspapers publish morning and evening editions, and there is a multitude of local and special interest publications. The leading daily newspapers are: Yomiuri Shimbun, Asahi Shinbun, Mainichi Shimbun, Sankei Shimbun and Nihon Keizai Shimbun (Nikkei), the economic daily.
The English-language Nikkei Weekly, Daily Yomiuri, and International Herald Tribune/Asahi Shimbun are sister publications of the main Japanese newspapers. They and the Japan Times have little political influence in Japan but are useful sources of information. The Tokyo Weekender is an English-language newspaper aimed at the international community, while the Tokyo Journal is the country’s oldest English-language lifestyle monthly. There are also numerous English-language magazines, several of which, including Metropolis and Tokyo Notice Board, are free. They contain useful information about what’s happening in town, as well as practical advice. Most local city, town and ward offices also provide some informative material in English, at no cost. See also www.att-japan.net for comprehensive tourist guidance.
There are numerous news agencies which supply news in Japanese and English, including Kyodo (http://home.kyodo.co.jp), though several foreign news bureaus have moved out of Japan in recent years citing reduced interest in Japan in the face of more urgent global issues.
The Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK), a public broadcasting network funded by viewer fees, runs radio as well as terrestrial and satellite television channels. There are also four major commercial television networks — TV Asahi, Fuji TV, Nippon TV (NTV) and Tokyo Broadcasting System (TBS) — and many local, satellite, cable and digital stations to which subscriptions can be made for a reasonable fee. In December 2002 BS digital broadcasts began with ten TV channels as well as radio and data transmission channels. Several of NHK’s news broadcasts are available with simultaneous English translation on televisions with a bilingual facility, and this is offered in most large hotels. Japan’s numerous radio stations include Tokyo’s Inter FM (76.1FM), a commercial music station which broadcasts in English and Japanese, and the American Forces Radio on 810AM.
Some 75,000 book and magazine titles are published each year in Japan, totalling about six billion copies. Most medium or large bookshops have at least a small English-language section, and several specialise in this field, although the price of books, generally, remains high. It has become both popular and convenient to order and purchase books, in both English and Japanese, online.
Journalists from the countries with which Japan has concluded a reciprocal visa waiver agreement are not required to obtain visas for short-term assignments. Journalists from other countries must apply for an entry visa at a Japanese Embassy before travelling to Japan. Correspondents who wish to work in Japan long-term, must ask their employer — foreign or Japanese — to apply to the Ministry of Justice on their behalf.
When planning a short assignment, it is best to avoid the peak holiday periods (late April to early May, August, and around the New Year) when it is difficult to make appointments with government officials or representatives of private companies. It is advisable to check the national holidays in advance.
The Tokyo-based Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan (FCCJ) is a non-profit organisation established ‘to promote friendship, harmony and mutual welfare among its members, to defend the freedom of the press, and to increase friendly relations between Japan and other countries.’ There are various types of membership, and the FCCJ offers broad-ranging support for the visiting or resident reporter, including free 30-day membership. Tel: 03-3211-3161; www.fccj.or.jp
The other main source of help for visiting journalists is the Foreign Press Centre Japan (FPCJ), which can help find interpreters (budget 30,000 - 60,000 yen per half-day for an interpreter) and equipment, and arrange tours and meetings with government officials, industry leaders and others. TV crews and photographers are advised to inform FPCJ of their shooting plans well in advance, as obtaining permission can take several weeks. FPCJ also provides a wide variety of up-to-date English-language materials about Japan. For details, see www.fpcj.jp.
The Japan National Pres Club (JNPC), which ‘has been providing a forum for journalists and opinion formers to meet and get their message out to Japanese and international audiences since 1969’, also has several membership categories and organises about 100 professional events each year. Tel: 03-3503-2721; www.jnpc.or.jp
One essential item for visiting journalists is a supply of meishi, or business cards. It is customary to exchange these on being introduced and it is advisable to always carry a box. If possible, have these printed in both English and Japanese, and have someone competent check that the Japanese is accurate and properly written.
A basic knowledge of Japanese etiquette, culture and business practices is a great help in making arrangements, obtaining information and understanding what’s going on. Also, be prepared to talk to your source in an informal situation such as over drinks or dinner, if necessary, as this is a common style of information-sharing in Japan.
Groups with New Zealand ties include:
Nihon New Zealand Gakkai (Japan New Zealand Academic Society): www.japan-nz-academic-society.org
New Zealand Travel Café: www.travelcafe.co.jp
Sponsored by Tourism New Zealand and Air New Zealand.
Japan Association of New Zealand Executives (JANZEC)
The New Zealand Society of Japan
Japan Australia New Zealand Ladies’ Group: www.janzladies.com
Australia and New Zealand Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ANZCCJ): www.anzccj.jp
Numerous Japanese and overseas companies offer low-cost international calls, and cheap-rate telephone cards, such as AT&T cards, are available at convenience stores. Mobile telephones are easy to buy and hire. Directory inquiries 104 has English speaking staff.
Taxis are expensive and traffic jams in the main cities are frequent and long. Addresses in Japan rely on numbers (and order of construction) rather than street names, and taxi drivers may even expect the customer to give directions to their destination, rather than simply the address. It is helpful to have a map in both English and Japanese when trying to find a meeting place.
Most large hotels, shops and restaurants accept major credit cards, although many smaller ones still do not. It is best to check before arrival whether a card’s PIN number must be reprogrammed for use in Japan. It is also possible to conduct banking and payment operations at many convenience stores and supermarkets. Money can be sent home for a low fee through Lloyds (www.golloyds.com).
Contributor: Jillian Yorke | Updated by Vaughan Yarwood
Latest update September 2008