Will Americans buy news and views about Japan from a Japanese paper when the country already is the subject of extensive scrutiny in the U.S. press?
The Japan Times is banking on the idea. The largest and oldest English-language daily in Japan is revamping its weekly overseas edition, beginning next month.
Gone will be the old black-and-white format on extra-thin paper. In its place will be a tabloid-size, full-color weekly that reaches beyond political news into business and other general-interest subjects such as art, food, life style and books.
The Japan Times is moving aggressively to be the international purveyor and interpreter of news about Japan. The expansion comes, perhaps not coincidentally, at a time Japanese officials and executives express continued frustration at what they call "Japan bashing" in the U.S. media.
"We're hoping to bridge the perception gap that exists between America and Japan, which is particularly evident in the area of the trade issue," Toshiaki Ogasawara, chairman and publisher of the Japan Times, said in a telephone interview from his Tokyo offices.
"The paper will address issues from a Japanese perspective. The aim is to correct the mistaken perceptions Americans have of Japan," he said.
Asked if the Japanese government is involved, Ogasawara said: "Some people think the Japan Times is the mouthpiece for government. That is absolutely nonsense. They do not own a cent" of the company's stock.
The newspaper is expanding as other publishing companies, both American and Japanese, are moving across the Pacific Ocean to capitalize on the growing demand for news about U.S.-Japanese relations. Japanese-language newspapers such as Asahi, Yomiuri and the Japan Economic Journal are beamed by satellite daily into the United States for distribution to Japanese nationals. Business Tokyo, an English-language monthly in Japan, recently opened a New York bureau.
Moving in the opposite direction, USA Today has begun distribution in Japan. The New York Times has announced plans for a fax paper in Tokyo, and the Los Angeles Times is studying a similar product. The Asian Wall Street Journal and the International Herald Tribune have been circulated in Japan for years.
Although the Japan Times dates to 1897 as the first English-language paper in Japan, its big growth in circulation--to 64,835 paid subscriptions--has come only in the past few years with the big influx of foreigners into Japan.
The overseas Japan Times Weekly, started in 1961, has a worldwide circulation of "only 4,000 to 5,000," of which half goes to North America, according to Ogasawara, who acquired a majority interest in the paper in 1984.
The Japan Times is investing $1 million in the expansion, said Ogasawara, who also heads the company he founded, Nifco Inc., a manufacturer of industrial fasteners, which has annual sales of about $300 million.
Ogasawara said he has been studying an expansion for two years and decided to go ahead now because of interest in Japan's emerging role in the world and its changing relationship with the United States.
"As tensions tighten, our market becomes more important," explained Philip J. LaForge, general manager of Japan Times Weekly.
"All people hear about is trade and Japan-bashing on both sides," LaForge said at the paper's new Wilshire Boulevard offices. He explained that the weekly will be "a culturally unfiltered source of news about Japan. . . . It will be completely edited in Tokyo," where it has a staff of 120.
The new, 24-page version of the weekly, which will debut the week of Feb. 5, is twice as large as the previous version. It will be printed in Los Angeles from pages sent overnight from Tokyo. Previously, the weekly was printed in Japan and sent by mail to U.S. subscribers.
The Japan Times, whose current U.S. readership is composed mostly of politicians and academics, is seeking to broaden its readership in Los Angeles, New York and Washington because of their high concentration of Japan watchers. It also is targeting San Francisco, Portland, Seattle and Chicago.
The revamped Japan Times will have an initial printing of 20,000 and subscription rate of $105 a year. Ogasawara would like to see a circulation of 50,000 to 60,000. La Forge says he has a personal goal of 70,000. To help the effort along, the publication has hired circulation manager Michael Fisher, formerly circulation manager at the Christian Science Monitor in Boston. The Japan Times plans to sell ads in Japan and the United States.
ENGLISH-LANGUAGE DAILIES IN JAPAN
Asahi Evening News
Mainichi Daily News
The Daily Yomiuri
Asian Wall Street Journal
International Herald Tribune
Pacific Stars & Stripes