What’s your background, and how did you get into journalism?
I’m from Kobe and was a high schooler when the Hanshin earthquake struck. Living through that made me want to be an aid worker or journalist. The way opportunities opened up, I ended up in journalism. After graduating from the London School of Economics, I did a one-year stint at JETRO, but quit to become a freelance translator and writer. It was around then that I decided I wanted to work in media. I got my first break in journalism as a reporter for the Associated Press in 2005, then went to The Wall Street Journal to be a correspondent in its Tokyo bureau before joining The New York Times last year.
What are the main areas that you cover?
I cover economics, business and technology stories from Japan. It’s quite a wide-open field.
What are the challenges of writing about Japan for a foreign audience? How about the perks?
One big challenge is to write about Japan in a way that interests a general audience, but still sounds right to people who know Japan more intimately. It’s all about balancing nuance and detail with wider perspectives. I try to avoid stereotypes—I have a personal rule to avoid references to things like geisha and samurai—and I always try to focus on specific anecdotes and real people. But it’s a constant struggle. I have to be prepared for harsh criticism of my stories, too. I’ve had people call me a traitor for writing critical stories on Japan. I think I’ve developed such thick skin, you could say I’m a moron to my face and I wouldn’t bat an eyelid. I don’t ignore criticism, though: a lot of readers out there have a better grasp of issues than I do, and I’m always learning from them. The perks are meeting people from all walks of life, and getting to ask no-bullshit questions to men and women in positions of power.
I’m not a regular reader of the NYT, so the first time I came across your writing was via Twitter. As a journalist, what effect has Twitter had on the way you work?
Twitter’s a great way to keep up with the buzz on the street, and you get instant feedback on stories and ideas. I don’t think you can be a good journalist any more if you don’t tweet.
Obviously this is an area of particular interest for both of us, but how do you fancy the future of print journalism (and print media in general)?
Print media needs to experiment, experiment, experiment—NYTimes.com’s new iPad app and the Local.JapanTimes website are great examples. I’m such a conventional reporter in a way, it’s definitely a challenge to reprogram myself for new media. But it’s clear that if we continue to do just “print journalism,” we’ll soon be out of jobs.
You’ve got about 4,000 more followers on Twitter than I do. How did you manage that?
Followers in the thousands—that’s so tiny in the Twitterverse!
How would you spend an ideal day off in Tokyo?
I just love parks. I’d probably head to Higashi Gyoen, lie on the grass and read a book.