Ogenki de (Be Well)
By David Yamaguchi
The North American Post
This issue will be my last. The time has come for me to move on, with my name on the masthead of this 83rd consecutive issue. Accordingly, I am taking this opportunity to say thank you to the many readers, volunteers and co-workers who have joined me on this journey.
And what a trip it has been! Along the way we have met fascinating people, explored the nooks and crannies of the Seattle Japanese American and Japanese expatriate (Shin-Issei) communities and wandered the ancient Japanese past.
We have also met many community writers, several of whom have set new standards of setting on paper the kinds of in-depth family histories that really help their young family members, and readers in turn, know their roots. Notable examples here include Shokichi Tokita — many readers’ favorite columnist — and longform essayist Pamela Okano.
Potential new writers hoping to follow in Shox’s and Pam’s footsteps should note that submissions need not be lengthy. Ken Sato’s “Candies Falling from the Sky” remains my favorite from the past 3.5 years (1200 words, June 2022). There, he describes his first experiences as a young US Army translator in Occupied Japan.
By way of background, after writing occasional columns during 2006 – 2016 as a volunteer, I was invited to join the NAP as a part-time paid freelancer in March 2016 (“Cave Art,” napost.com). My charge was to help new editor Misa Murohashi with supplementary English content.
The latest legs of my NAP involvement began in May 2020, when I was asked to join the regular staff as an English writer/editor. Prior advertising salesperson Ai Isono was returning with her family to Japan, creating a difficult-to-fill bilingual-staff opening that Misa could cover, if an English writer was brought on board. At the same time, Seattle was also descending into the COVID-19 pandemic. It was upon entering the NAP’s “castle walls” that my education on the inner workings of newspapers really began.
My first assignment was to write something — quickly — on the Seattle rioting that had just happened in the wake of the killing of George Floyd. Similar meaty tasks came my way in quick succession. An example was a request that I describe the state of the post-riot Seattle Chinatown/International District from a “newsroom” of JA writers led by Gwen Muranaka and Ellen Endo of “Rafu Shimpo,” the Los Angeles Japanese community newspaper. The resulting NAP “The Path Forward: The Role of Art” would later be reprinted by Rafu as “The Road Back: Part 1 — Public Art Paves the Way to Understanding” (Sep. 2020).
Behind the scenes, from my earliest “ninomiya” (inner castle walls) days, Misa also began teaching me how to lay out the paper in Adobe InDesign, today’s industry standard.
Across succeeding months, I gradually began to understand why many current employers seek writers who can also do layout. The simple answer is that in small organizations, everyone needs to be able to do nearly everything. A deeper answer is that a combined writer/editor/page-designer can continue fine-tuning stories as corrections come in from authors and proofreaders, and as late-breaking stories develop.
With each passing month, I took over more and more of the paper’s English writing and layout, leaving Misa largely free to pursue advertisers and otherwise manage NAP Inc.’s two newspapers (including the Japanese-language “Soy Source”).
In March 2022, Misa informed me that she would be leaving the next month. She basically asked me to just take over the English pages entirely, as she simultaneously handed the Japanese pages to Japanese writer/editor Hikari Kono.
From that April, I remember thinking, “Let’s see if we can get the paper out twice.” My rationale was that once might be luck. Then, there were still a few layout details that I didn’t fully grasp.
After getting those first two issues out passably, it was time to choose my own stars with which to pilot my way. Two of Misa’s stars had been speed, which is desirable from a business perspective, and layout aesthetics, reflecting her magazine publishing background. If I was going to steer the NAP ship, I was going to instead prioritize writing and editing excellence, even as doing so began consuming my evenings and weekends. I wanted to show readers what the NAP could be.
The turning point came that November, when Hikari and I finally had basic layout under our belts, and we began playing with it, initially inserting amusing corner turkey sketches that escaped the notice of many. As alert readers may have noticed, we have continued tinkering with the entire paper to the present, Toyota “kaizen” (incremental improvement) style.
One kaizen-point began in April 2022, when the poor print quality of NAP’s photos made me wonder how I could improve them. Recalling that I had used to shoot a single-lens-reflex Nikon camera in the film days, I began learning to use a DSLR (digital SLR) Nikon from the 2022 Seattle Cherry Blossom Festival issue. The prize was 5 mb images, which print much more clearly on rough newspaper.
This brings us to today.
What have we wrought?
My weekly observations of south Seattle NAP racks tell part of the story. At Maruta, the rack closest to my home which I know the best, I began seeing 18-inch stacks of papers vaporize in 24 hours.
The NAP website WordPress dashboard, visible only within NAP, tells the same story quantitatively. The years 2021 – 2023 each had or are on track to have over 20,000 more visitors per year than 2020.
Among student or early-career writers, four have published three articles each, the goal I had encouraged them to get to. They can now apply for jobs listing published writing examples among the application criteria. They are also at the starting point for being able to sell articles as freelance writers. All are familiar enough with the process now. All are also currently being tracked on Muckrack.com, a journalism website.
Among mid- or late-career writers, ten new writers since 2020 have written NAP articles chosen for reprinting on “Discover Nikkei,” the online writing magazine managed by the Japanese American National Museum, Los Angeles. Their voices collectively largely represent the current “Seattle perspective.” Given JANM’s more stable funding, their words there can be expected to persist long into the future.
A new “problem” of late has been that we have had more ad requests than we have space for. The bottom line is that from an editorial perspective at least, the NAP ship is sailing in the right direction.
From this issue, there may be a publication gap until a new editor can be found. I ask that readers bear with the NAP here. During this period, there is no reason why community-writer contributions cannot continue. Superb volunteer proofreaders Geraldine Shu and Randy Tada — the pair that most frequently leave “red marks” all over my copy — will remain.
A note on Geraldine: she has been donating this behind-the-scenes time since 2016, under editors Shihou Sasaki (2009 – 2016; the columnist of “Isseki” today; p. 12) and Murohashi (2016 – 2022).
Back then, Geraldine’s mother, the late Dr. Ruby Inouye Shu (who delivered 1066 babies, many of them Sansei) used to tell her daughter, “they really need a good proofreader.”
Geraldine was summoned by Sasaki after the passing of her mother and perhaps from the Other Side.
A related request would be for readers attending interesting community events to submit photos and captions. Most mobile phones these days take usable photos. The small NAP staff cannot make it to all events.
During the transition, and even after it, I would also encourage nonprofit groups to self-post their own events to the NAP website (there, click “Event.”) Events posted there are seen by about 100 unique visitors a day.
My last request is the timeless plaint of all newspaper editors. Submit those event press releases early! The staff — and readers — need lead time!
A final comment is that my departure creates an opportunity for a new editor. Here, I would say that working at NAP is really interesting. Its newsfeed of about 100 emails a day means that you have your fingers on the pulse of the Seattle JA/J communities. You get to pick the most intriguing 2-3 events per news cycle to cover in-person.
On my end, this is not really “sayonara,” as I am not going far. You will continue to see me at JA and Japanese community events.
From mid-November, I will head the Japan America Society of the State of Washington (jassw.org). There is a lot of overlap between the work of NAP and JASSW. NAP essentially faces east, from the Chinatown/International District near the Seattle waterfront, towards the Seattle JA/J community living in and beyond it. By contrast, JASSW looks west, across the Pacific to Japan, with a business perspective.
Ogenki de — until we meet again.