2012: A Year of Celebration and Change Part II

October 1, 2012 at 5:51 pm

By Terry Watada

Nikkei Voice is a new publication which will be sent to you bi-monthly starting in 1988.  It is an instrument to help all Japanese Canadians communicate across Canada and become a social and a political force.  It is also a means to help all Canadians better understand the unique history, accomplishments and the character of Japanese Canadians.
This periodical encourages and welcomes any items of social or community interest to be shared by all Japanese Canadians across the country.  Henceforth, major NAJC news will also be incorporated into this publication.
Ken Kishibe Editor
Nikkei Voice
December 1987, Vol. 1, No. 1

Thus began the 25 year run of the Nikkei Voice, a newspaper that many sniped at after its original mandate was concluded: to keep Nikkei informed about the redress negotiations and settlement. The paper has been accused of being “rabid” and “same old, same old conservative opinions, inconsequential” almost at the same time. Some saw it as too “arts” centred, too “internment” obsessed, and too self-promoting by redress leaders and activists. Others castigated the staff and writers by telephone (never in a letter-to-the-editor) for revealing the truth about community members or issues. All I ever heard from parts west of Ontario was “Don’t you know no one reads it here?” – an exaggeration to be sure but with more than a grain of truth to it. In Ontario and beyond, Sansei told me they read it at their parents’ house, if at all.

So what good is the NV? What indeed is the role of the community publication – especially a Nikkei publication? Robert Ito, the celebrated actor of Quincy fame, told me he reads the NV for the obits. Once the New Canadian and the Canada Times ceased to exist the NV was the only publication that told him about people he knew. So the newspaper is a vehicle of communication at some basic level. The New Canadian was a good example. It printed obituaries along with community events and curling and bowling scores but little else for most of its last years. Most of the articles were cut out of other publications and pasted into its pages – anywhere from the Pacific Citizen to the Yomiuri Shimbun. And for that the editor was inducted into the Order of Canada. But surely the community publication must be more than that.

In its 25 year run, the NV has had several editors, each enthusiastic to put out a paper that contained stories that were of interest to the Nikkei community. That offered a forum for all Japanese Canadians to express themselves. That as Ken Kishibe expressed in issue one became the conscience of a unique group of Canadians. David Ikeda created the Editorial Collective to generate ideas and put them down in print; Jesse Nishihata dug for more historically based stories written by Japanese Canadians about Japanese Canadians; a number of editors, including Suzanne Hartmann and Mika Fukuma, strained to cover and give voice to the Nikkei on a national level; while some editors like Yusuke Tanaka came aboard with a political agenda.

Yet the Nikkei Voice and I suspect others have been plagued by a dwindling reader and subscriber base. They suffer from a perceived lack of appreciation for their effort and existence. But the Voice has survived. Frank Moritsugu, elder Nisei statesman and long-time popular columnist, once declared that the paper would not last five years, but here it is 25 years later.

A whole new staff has taken over the paper and they too with all the vigour and confidence of their youth want to produce something relevant for the national community. They also have decided to skew younger, with forays into social media, including Facebook and Twitter. That is of course fine but I believe they have an uphill battle. I have struggled throughout my 25 year tenure at the paper to offer a unique perspective on personalities and controversies within and around the Nikkei community – from Don Wakamatsu’s elevation to coach of the Seattle Mariners (and subsequent fall and resurrection as Bench Coach for the Toronto Blue Jays) to “Nipper Tipping” in Northern Ontario to Bev Oda’s missteps in Parliament – and received only indifference as feedback. I recoiled with surprise and anger every time a letter-to-the-editor stated that the Nikkei Voice had not covered the stories I clearly had. Even a fellow writer claimed to write on a subject that no one, not even the major papers and magazines, had. Obviously the writer didn’t recall my column from the year before. Probably didn’t even read it. I have retired my column as a result and moved on to my many personal projects including a presence in The Bulletin. Not that I expect more but a monthly column keeps the mind sharp.

As for the Nikkei Voice, perhaps it will run for another 25 years, perhaps not. I can only pass on the advice Frank Moritsugu once gave me: justify the inclusion of every article I submit to the paper. Ask myself the question, he went on, why would a Nikkei want to read my piece if the subject can be read somewhere else? If the advice is taken seriously then maybe the youthful idealism, energy and hubris will carry the paper.