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FEATURE
Lord of Light

Lord of Light

Sometimes we get caught up in something that takes us by surprise. Maybe that's why we came to Japan - to be injected into our new future without regard to our past. It's a rewarding, frustrating, happy and sad journey with different paths for us all. And suddenly, quietly, in a brief moment, we can look back and realize that we have grown in experience and life and all of us have a story. Perhaps the story of Tokyo Classified is the story of our life in Japan.


Getting off the plane with just a few rolled-up bank notes and a big bag of hopes, Mark Devlin, one of the founders of TC, came to Tokyo as an English teacher in October 1989. Japan was his passport out of the gloomy Scottish job market: "I had to leave Glasgow because there were so few jobs around. Everyone was going down to London but that was too dull for me. I had been going to Japanese lessons and one guy from the class went flying off to Japan and I thought, "What have I got to lose?" I reckoned if I went to Japan for a year and came back it would be easier to find a job in London. So I sold pretty much everything I owned (not much), came over and got work as an English teacher. From there I moved through several jobs: I worked as an editor of financial reports, I did computer work for a headhunting company and then got a job with a securities firm running a large computer network for their Research Department."

So where did the idea for Tokyo Classified come from?
Well, one night I made a friend in a club who confided that he was thinking of starting up a classified paper. It sounded like a cool project, so a few days later my partner Mary and I sat down and started planning. We spent about six months preparing, setting up computer programs, making the dummy issue, going to meet potential clients and so forth. It was tough because most Japanese people didn't know what a classified ad was - they just didn't understand what the magazine was about!

In fact when we first started lots of people called us and said, "Oh, I had that idea too." But having an idea is one thing and actually getting around to taking the risk and making it a reality is a whole different step. Opportunity should be a verb-you have to make it happen.

Were you ever worried by your lack of experience in the publishing business?
When we started we really didn't have a clue how you were supposed to run a magazine. We just did it the way that came naturally. We had to trust our instinct that there was a need for Tokyo Classified and then do our best to fill that need. Then we found staff to match our energy and enthusiasm and worked with them. We've always had a good team spirit and positive energy and have tried as much as possible to convey that through the magazine.

Having said that, it was really tough for the first few years. My friend pulled out but Mary and I believed it was going to work, so we just kept on and on. It was almost two years before I thought "Phew! We've survived!" Then I decided that we had to expand and we are just about learning how to cope with that now. It's hard to believe we have over 30 full-time staff.

It is one thing to make a magazine and quite another to make a business. I have been continually amazed at the help we have received along the way. There are some very special people who deserve a lot of thanks for their contribution to Tokyo Classified. And I want the readers to support our sponsors, as they have put their money where their mouth is and are supporting the community.


Why has Tokyo Classified become so popular?

The magazine is popular simply because it is useful to people. You can use Tokyo Classified to make a positive contribution to your life. You can use it to set up your life in Tokyo, to make money, to find love or just to get around town. The fax machine is next to my desk - seeing all those ads coming in makes me feel good. We're making a contribution to life in Tokyo. People need us as much as we need them.

What is your favorite section?
I read the Rant and Rave first and then have a quick look at the personals! I go to the movies a lot so I'm an avid reader of Don's movie reviews.

Do you get much reader feedback?
Listening to people and getting feedback is incredibly important in a growing business. I spend time every day chatting to readers via the website about the magazine and what they think of it. Direct contact forces us to be truthful about what we are doing and look objectively at our product, not just to defend our own ideas thinking, "This is the most fantastic thing ever created." Please criticize us more - it helps us get better!

What is in the future for Tokyo Classified?
Tokyo Classified will become the primary entry point for people to get information on Japan. That means that in addition to classifieds and listings we will bring in much more info on travel, news, politics, fashion, computers, Internet, finance, sports, art, culture, people - the whole lot.

It's sad that such an interesting country has such poor quality information in English. The English-language newspapers are a joke and there is a lack of magazines dealing specifically with Japanese issues. But if you look at a Japanese magazine, like Tokyo Walker or Nikkei Trendy, there is an astounding amount of information for the reader compared with similar magazines in the West. I want to know: What are the new trends and moods in Japan? Where are the new cars and inventions? Who has the gossip and weird, funny stories? What is the real news with serious opinion? Let's bring that information into the light!

Will this expansion be in the magazine?
We will try to fit as much as possible into the magazine, doubling its size over the coming year. We will shortly bring in new sections for travel, learning Japanese and to help find an apartment. We will also have a new weekly interview and be expanding our community coverage and adding more listings sections.

Beyond that we can use the Internet to provide more information and extra services. We will soon have a searchable archive on the web site of every feature that has ever run in Tokyo Classified and we are adding services such as daily email newsletters and enhanced chat rooms. We are also interested in providing information about Japan in other languages, even Japanese.

Do you plan to make the magazine more widely available?
Tokyo Classified's distribution will expand both internationally, through the Internet and international distribution, and by streamlining our distribution in Tokyo. We have also had a great response to our sponsored distribution program, where companies pay for copies as a benefit for their staff, or where schools buy copies to give to their students free as a teaching tool. But the main news is that we will shortly be distributing the magazine at major train stations, making it easier to find and increasing its exposure to Japanese readers. There are so many Japanese who speak English and are fascinated by gaijin life. Let's invite them to join our international community.

Who is Sparky, why is he the Lord of Light and what's with those horns?
I always sign my email "Sparky" but very few people call me that. The first time we put our photos in the one with the horns was the only photo I had at the office, so in it went and has stayed there ever since! My official title was originally "King of the Monsters" but I changed it to "Lord of Light", which came from a song. It took me years to realize that "Lord of Light" actually means "God" - I just never thought about it!

Why are you having a free party?
Why not?! As part of our "Free Forever" policy we will have an ongoing series of free parties. The idea is for the readers to meet each other, win some prizes, listen to some good music, get some special offers from our sponsors, get drunk and generally have a good time! The next party will be in June, so apply for tickets early!

How long is "Free Forever!?"
So many people ask us this question! I was inspired by Mel Gibson in Braveheart when he said "They may take our lives but they cannot take our freedom!" Our commitment is that Tokyo Classified will be free for ever and ever. Amen."

 

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298: Snow time like the present
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297: Helping Hands
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296: Stop the Music
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295: Just Do It!
Staying in shape in the city
294: 2 can play that game
The next generation of games consoles
293: Vegging out in Tokyo
Some of Tokyo's meatless oases
292: Multiplicity
The belated arrival of the multiplex
291: After a Fashion
Zita Ohe walks through Tokyo's fall/winter fashions
290: Used and Abused
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289: Microbrew - a mini guide
Tour the best of Tokyo's independent suds makers
288: The Delusions of a Kabuki Addict
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287: Live and Learn
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286: Are you quaking?
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285: Sagawa Kyubin guys
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284: South Park
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283: A saner Tokyo
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282: Trainspotting
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281: The Lost World
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280: Body of Art
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279: Open all hours
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278: The Rice Stuff
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277: Get out!
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276: The Empire Strikes Big
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275: Don't worry be happy!
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274: Off the hook
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273: Books
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272: What's up pussy cat?
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271: Moving mountains for Freedom
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270: So you think you're safe?
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269: Are these the droids you're looking for?
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268: From beast to beauty
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267: Perfect TV
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266: Let's do talk
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265: Get ready to rock!
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264: Kichijoji uncovered
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263: Tour Japan one bite at a time
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262: Golden getaways
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261: Millennium fudge
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260: Ueno Park
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259: Stressed to kill
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258: Oodles of noodles
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257: Off the shelf
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256: Lord of light
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255: Are you game
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254: Eat your heart out
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253: The way of wagashi
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252: Face to face with Harajuku
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251: What a grind!
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250: The year of the rabbit
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ISSUES 350+
ISSUES 349-
ISSUES 249-

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