I' been in the newspaper business since the age of fifteen, so all of my productive life
has been in publishing. Even when I enlisted for the Korean War back in the '50s, I was
put in an outfit called the 2nd Combat Photo Squadron which was documenting events through
motion pictures and stills for the Department of Defense, and after the war I ended up
working in South East Asia researching stories for the army press corps. That was a great
time. I was working as the "advance" guy?we'd get a request for a story from the
Department of Defense or whoever, and they would send me to research it and report back.
So I would go out, find the story, shoot some footage, type up captions and give a list of
contacts, then I'd take it to the embassy who'd send it back to the guys here who'd
evaluate it and then maybe send a team. The good part was waiting until they evaluated it,
because waiting in somewhere like Saigon in 1954 was something else; just wonderful. Then
I would be sent off to Guam or Hawaii or wherever, always staying one hop ahead of the
team, and it was a great job for a kid. You know, I was 24 years old, traveling on
military orders and it was all top secret stuff. It was very heady material.
I first came to Japan to "live" late in 1955 when a long time friend of mine who
was the flight safety officer at Yokota and this civilian guy wanted to start a monthly
magazine for the forces out here. They were looking for an editor and they chose me. So
late in 1955 I got out of the service, moved to Nagoya and started this magazine which I
kept up until the government ran out of funds for it, which was in September of 1957 when
I joined Stars and Stripes.
The idea for Weekender came out of the company I formed in the '60s, Image Public
Relations, which was doing entertainment PR work and later publishing. I had done plenty
of research by that time and realized that there was no-one who was reporting on Tokyo's
foreign community, which by that time was quite large, and so with Weekender we set out to
do just that. We were the first community paper that offered the chance for people to
communicate with each other about various events they were staging and to inform them
about Japanese culture and customs. The first issue came out in 1970 and we had a four day
party to celebrate. We've just gone from there really.
When I first got here, Japan was still recovering from the war. You'd see ex-soldiers in
their uniforms begging in the streets, and everyone was kind of subservient?they'd see a
"Yankee" and they'd bow and avert their eyes and move off the sidewalk. They
didn't have any money at the time because there was no industry as such, and there wasn't
much to eat. But over the years I saw this change and it was inspiring to watch. The one
thing that really turned the Japanese people around was being awarded the 1964 Olympic
Somehow, somewhere the government found the funds to clear up the roads and build the
expressways and structures needed. There was a palpable sense of pride and nationalism
driving these people to excel and make a success of the games, and being here at a time
when so much industry and energy was being exerted was both inspiring and contagious.
After that?and the Olympics came off brilliantly?the citizens gained a national
self-confidence that hasn't been extinguished to this day.
I guess there have been three Tokyos since I've been here: the first as a city in ruins;
then building up during and after the Olympics; and the place that it is now. I guess
there'll be another one in the future, once the current problems are sorted out, and I do
think that the Japanese have the knowledge and the fortitude to pull this country back
It's interesting to hear all this talk today about how the youngsters have lost their
morality and are obsessed by fads and fashions, because the young people were rebelling
and doing the same things forty years ago; they just did it in less dramatic fashion. I
mean, Japan has always been a nation of fadists. These days you've got school girls who
wouldn't be seen dead without their white socks, and it was the same in the '50s. Back
then they had this black doll with a ring through the nose which you could make cling to
your arm or your leg or wherever you wanted it to, and everyone had to have one. It's no
And then things like drugs which, although not prevalent when I first came here, were
still available. You could walk around Shinjuku station any time you wanted and there were
kids sniffing glue?it wasn't hard drugs like methyl amphetamine back then?and getting
high...well getting into a stupor. You'd see kids lying around with their eyes glazed over
and it was kind of depressing. Then, during the Vietnam War, you had large amounts of
drugs coming in here?pills, uppers and stuff. It really isn't anything new.
What I do find annoying though is the Japanese elders' proclivity for blaming everything
that goes wrong with the youth on Western influence. Like with the Kobe incident last
summer they were saying they found a stack of Western horror movies at the killer's house
and that this had influenced him. Well, I'm sorry, but I just don't believe that stuff. I
mean you can't tell me that some kid is going to watch Natural Born Killers and then go
out and get a gun and kill someone. I'm sure that there is a certain amount of influence
from the West, but not all of it is bad, and it was the same for the kids' parents and
grandparents. You know, back in the '20s they embraced Dixieland jazz, they loved it and
all dressed the part. So there has always been a certain segment of the Japanese public
that has embraced Western culture, but you can't blame society's ills on that.
When I first joined the service, the idea of spending the rest of my life in Asia was
not even a consideration. I wanted to be a newspaper man, and when I came to Asia I was
fairly angry about the whole thing. But it didn't take me long to realize what a vibrant
and exciting part of the world this is. Coming over here changed my entire life?not that
there was much of it back then as I was only 24 at the time. I've spent the majority of my
productive life in Asia, and it certainly feels very comfortable now. In fact when I go
back to America I feel really screwed up when I first get there, even with things like
driving. Asia is my home; America is just a nice place to live.
The future? Well, we're thinking about going back to a weekly, not to compete with Tokyo
Classified but because we've got it down pretty much now, and bi-weekly seems too long;
its difficult to maintain consistency. You know, I worked on a daily paper for much of my
life, and in the newsroom there would always be some guy sitting hunched over the copy
desk with a green eye shade who has been writing headlines all his life and he's saying
how one day he's going to go someplace?usually Vermont?and have a nice little weekly and
be the weekly editor and live happily ever after. Well, that's what I'm doing?a community
weekly...well bi-weekly. And it's still fun after all these years; I don't think of it as
work at all.
Corky Alexander spoke to Richard James.
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