TV & Radio
Seeing America from Portland perch
Monday, January 02, 2006
When the U.S. military death toll in Iraq reached 2,000, the Hokkaido Shimbun's Washington, D.C.-based correspondent cranked out a news story with facts and figures. But his Portland colleague -- the first Oregon-based staff writer for a Japanese newspaper -- did just what he came to do.
Toshimi Edagawa cut to the quick with a moving story about a Portland woman whose soldier son had died in Iraq, giving Japanese readers an intimate view of American life. Edagawa, a 42-year-old father of two, cried when he interviewed Lynn Bradach, mother of Travis, who was killed last July clearing land mines.
"When we look at their pictures in the newspaper," Edagawa wrote of Americans killed in the war, "they are so young that it makes us absolutely sad. Each of them has a life story."
Edagawa's personal approach, and his self-chosen base in Portland, are highly unusual among Japanese foreign correspondents, who tend to write stories that read like formulaic wire-service translations. He says his editors in Sapporo, Portland's sister city on the northern island of Hokkaido, bucked convention by sending him to a midsize West Coast community so that he could see things through American eyes.
In six months, the trim outgoing reporter, who came from a prestigious Tokyo assignment directing national political coverage, has seen both good and bad in the United States. He noticed, while covering Hurricane Katrina's fallout in New Orleans, that all the police officers at an emergency shelter were white and all the displaced people there were black. He spoke with an African American looter who said the disaster freed him from an oppressive society.
But like a modern-day de Tocqueville, Edagawa is eager as well to report on American innovations and achievements. He admires Oregon for its originality -- assisted suicide and same-sex marriage are stories on his to-do list. He wants to write about strong local governments, even if that means deciphering Portland's quirky commission-style system.
"In Japan, the national government is very powerful, and local governments have no money and no power," Edagawa says. So Japanese reformers face long odds.
Edagawa, who grew up near Tokyo, never expected to become a journalist. He graduated from Hokkaido University with a veterinarian's license but never practiced. "I didn't like blood," he says.
He rose through the reporting ranks, considering himself lucky, in the perverse logic of journalists, to see so many big disasters. Japan's Okushiri Island tsunami, the Kobe earthquake, the Mount Usu eruption, the Indian Ocean tsunami and now Katrina -- he covered them all.
He also worked in the elite press corps covering Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, accompanying him to North Korea and elsewhere. While Edagawa admires Koizumi's populist appeal, he thinks his reforms often benefit big cities at the expense of rural areas.
Edagawa works for a newspaper with a daily circulation of nearly 2 million, almost five times as large as The Sunday Oregonian's. Hokkaido Shimbun has 10 foreign bureaus spread from Moscow to Cairo, Beijing to London and Paris to . . . Portland.
Like many U.S. newspapers, however, the Hokkaido Shimbun's circulation is shrinking, and space devoted to international news is contracting. Japanese editors are searching for new ways to reach and retain readers. That includes arming Edagawa with a video camera to supplement his articles with segments for Japanese television or the Web, a chore that doesn't excite him.
Edagawa had been to the United States only twice, on whirlwind trips with Japanese politicians, before scouting the West Coast for a reporting base last March. He visited Vancouver, B.C., Seattle and Portland. "Portland is the perfect size" and friendly, he says, noting, however, that competing media in Japan say, "Hokkaido Shimbun is crazy," thinking Los Angeles or San Francisco to be more suitable locations for a West Coast bureau.
Working from a RiverPlace apartment in downtown Portland, Edagawa relies on part-time news assistant William Anton, who has lived in Japan, for linguistic and logistical support. He misses his wife, 10-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son, hoping they can leave Sapporo to join him before long.
Over rice, eel and a Sapporo beer in a Japanese restaurant recently, Edagawa told tales of reporting in a territory that extends from Alaska to South America. He consulted an electronic dictionary occasionally to find an English word.
Recently, he traveled to an Alaskan village on the Bering Sea whose residents voted to move their community because of rising sea levels blamed on global warming. He plans to visit the Dominican Republic to write about disenchanted Japanese immigrants there.
In Oregon, Edagawa has interviewed Tillamook farmers, writing about U.S. beef exports to Japan resuming after the mad-cow scare. He visited the southern town of Bly to explore allegations that terrorists planned a training camp nearby.
Until arriving there, he didn't know that the Bly area was also the site of World War II's only mainland-U.S. casualties, six people killed by a balloon bomb carried by the jet stream from Japan. Anxious about how he would be received, Edagawa found townspeople willing to talk and to show him folded-paper cranes sent years later in a gesture by Japanese schoolchildren. He wrote a story for his Japanese readers. But, he says, "Many Oregon people don't know about the balloon bomb. It's amazing."
Edagawa's editors have given him three years abroad, an adventure he regards as his last hurrah. After that, he expects to undergo the Japanese newsman's inevitable metamorphosis from reporter to editor. In the meantime, he says, "I don't want to go to waste even one day in Portland."
Richard Read: 503-294-5135; firstname.lastname@example.org
A few foreign journalists cover the news in and out of Oregon
Monday, January 02, 2006
-- Richard Read
Oregon may not be an international news hub, but the Portland area has attracted a handful of foreign correspondents.
South Korea has a contingent. "We have these Korean events," says Robert Donaldson, honorary consul general of the Republic of Korea, "and a lot of times there'll be three or four journalists elbowing to get the best camera angle."
Seung Yu writes for the Korean Central Daily newspaper. Joon "Jay" Choi writes for The Korea Times, which shows interest in the case of Tigard panty thief Sung Koo Kim, who emigrated from South Korea as a child. But both reporters write primarily for U.S. editions, meaning they might not qualify for top rank in the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Oregon -- if one existed.
Jens Eckhardt is the genuine article, however. He's based in Portland as West Coast correspondent for Handelsblatt, Germany's daily business and financial newspaper. A full-time staff writer, he covers a variety of topics, including the U.S. auto industry.
Eckhardt's predecessor might be considered to be Theodor Kirchhoff, a German journalist who wrote about Oregon in the 1860s. "A mere 20 Germans," Kirchhoff wrote of Corvallis, "yet the place had two excellent breweries, proof that Americans regard the brown nectar of grain as highly as do our countrymen.
"For, no matter how thirsty and how well endowed with Teutonic bibulousness, 20 Germans could not drink the output of two breweries." -- Richard Read