We are voices. We are just narrating the world.


Interviewed by Isao Tokuhashi
Written by Tomomi Tada & Isao Tokuhashi
Mail to: itokuhashi@myeyestokyo.com


John Matthews (USA)
Radio anchor & reporter
(He has been in Japan since 2006)

John Matthews – a journalist who usually broadcasts news coverage about Japan via NPR (National Public Radio), America’s non-profit media organization.

“Voices have power, voices give us imagination”. He loves reading news and producing his podcast “The Japan Show,” a weekly discussion on news and views in Japan with his Australian expat co-host. John loves radio more than anything. What we could see in him through the conversation is that he really enjoys his work. We can say that this is his lifework. You can feel his passion for radio at http://japanshowpodcast.co.cc/ !

*Interview in Yotsuya (Shinjuku-ku)
*Click here to listen to his voice on MET radio.



Somebody knows my “voice”

I love working on radio. Radio is fun. I record short news about what happens or just after what happens. My news is probably heard on millions of stereos in the States every day.

I’m on NPR (National Public Radio), the biggest newsradio in America. When I was younger, my grandmother was a big NPR fan, so I’ve been familiar with it.

After the March 11th disaster, I started working as an interpreter for NPR and for other media organizations. I do broadcast news from Japan, to American radio. People don’t really know who I am. If you would ask anyone who I am, they wouldn’t know. But they have heard my voice before. It’s cool. The other day, one of my friends e-mailed me and said “Hey! Are you on NPR?”, even though I haven’t spoken to him for years.

People listen to my reports by chance on NPR as I say “I’m John Matthews in Tokyo” at the very end of the news on Japan. So they hear my name on NPR. And some of my friends actually said hello to me. It was amazing because I’ve been able to restart some friendships thanks to it.


The power of voice

Voices are sexy. I don’t know why but I like voices.

In my opinion, radio is more special than the newspaper or written stuff definitely. I think it’s got more charm than video or TV. Because when you hear a voice, you use your imagination.

When parents read bedtime stories to their children, a mother might show you the pictures, or she might just read it to you. That voice is what helps you drift off to sleep, the sound of your mother’s voice. That’s the power of voice.

So, on the radio, you want to have the voice the people trust. You can’t talk too fast like when we talk with friends. You can’t give too much. You have to think of the balance between intensity and brevity, which is very hard to do.

When you have video, you have different people, we have a lot of things going on; with video, it’s hard to isolate one thing. Video is not just one person. On the other hand, on the radio, one person – It’s sort of stable anchorperson- usually guides you. For example, Larry King (a CNN anchor and former host of “Larry King Live“). More than anything I know about him is his voice. In the end, it’s all about the voice.


What I’m creating

I’m also doing a podcast called “The Japan Show”. It’s not for NPR, It’s just for myself and Gavin Dixon, my co-host.

We love doing it. One of the most fun things is having that deep but friendly discussion every week. Of course I’m very much enjoying the news though, but sometimes it is more fun or exciting than NPR work.

As I told you, I record news for 40 – 45 seconds, it’s a short piece, and they’re broadcast in the U.S. It’s also cool, but the thing is you can’t do discussion on NPR. I do straight-up news. So what I like to do is to be a “storyteller,” that’s the main stuff.

What I enjoy working on “The Japan Show” is that we are having the discussion about things. We are able to give our opinions, able to talk about things, and able to get more followers who listen to us regularly. The news, it maybe doesn’t matter if I say it or you say it; whoever says it, it’s the news. But discussion is different. Discussion means you can say you think this, I think this, and your point of view is interesting…

We choose what we want to do, we work for ourselves, we don’t make any money. But we have tons of fun. That’s what I love about the show.


What the earthquake brought to me.

To be honest, I was thinking about leaving Japan and living somewhere else before the March 11th earthquake. But after that, I have never thought that I would leave Japan. Actually the earthquake kept me here. I feel the earthquake gave me a sense of community here.

Originally I got interested in Japan through a book called “Shogun” (the title refers to a hereditary military dictator of Japan). It’s a historical fiction based on the period just before Tokugawa Ieyasu took power (He was the founder and first shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate of Japan, which ruled from 1603 until 1868). That was a huge book; I enjoyed it and I found Japan interesting. Japan is cool, the history is cool, I was just fascinated. So I wanted to come to Japan.

I studied Japanese in my high school in the U.S. for two years. Then my high school chose me as a student for exchange to a Japanese high school called Tamagawa Gakuen (It’s located in a suburb of Tokyo) which was a sister school of ours.

That was my first visit to Japan. After the exchange, I went back to the U.S, but I always wanted come back to Japan and waited for the right time.

And finally I’m here. It took long time, but I think I was very lucky. And now I have a radio career based in Japan, the country I was fascinated by.

Of course I’m not happy that the earthquake happened at all, but it introduced me to a radio as a profession and it helped me to find something which I love. That was a turning point for my career, working for NPR. That was the time I started working as an interpreter for them and eventually for other media organizations.

And now I feel I’ve shared this disaster experience with Japan. Even though I’m not Japanese, I’ve shared this experience with them. I feel Japan is partially my country as well. This earthquake socially helped me to become part of the country.


If I can do anything…

I’m hoping to make The Japan Show a regular radio show on Japanese radio or on major publication in Japan like “Time Out Tokyo” (A portal site about city life for people in Tokyo). That’s my goal.

And I would love to be a full time correspondent radio journalist in Japan. I want to do what I want to do, I want to report on the radio. Also I would like to work for NHK World with Gavin Dixon, my co-host of The Japan Show. We’re trying to get into it together because we’re a kind of a team now.

I’ve enjoyed the radio so far, I’m happy with that. If I could do anything… I’d do radio. I’m a radio guy!

John Matthews joined MET radio as substitute for Arlene and Maya.
August 6, 2011 @ Chuo-FM 84.0


What is the radio to John?

It is a way of viewing, a window into reality. It’s not completely transparent.

We give certain details. We paint a picture. But we don’t paint the entire picture. We can’t say everything; that the grass is green, the sky is blue. What I believe radio is that people who listen to us paint that picture in their minds with their imaginations by listening to our voices. I think the radio drama is one of the coolest things I’ve ever heard of. They can be a bit dirty, a bit cheesy, but I love them.

Radio is a story. It’s storytelling. What we tell is news or history. We are voices. We are just narrating the world. That’s my radio.


What is Tokyo to you?

Tokyo is the city without a solid identity.

Tokyo has its spirit, it has its life or lifestyle. But I feel the city is too fragmented to call itself a “city”. New York has certain images attached to it such as Harlem, Queens, Manhattan, Wall Street… But what comes to mind when people hear “Tokyo”? Many of them would answer “a crowded place”. I feel Tokyo doesn’t know what it is. “Hey, I’m Tokyo.” it doesn’t say that. Of course each area has an identity, but I don’t feel Tokyo has a strong enough identity in and of itself. I think it’s just a big working city.

But I’ve enjoyed living here because I’ve made many friends and lost friends here. And they’ve changed my life. I found that anywhere you live, that’s the important part. As long as good people are living in any city, you can have a good time and enjoy your life there.

To me, that’s Tokyo.


John’s Links

The Japan Show Podcast:http://japanshowpodcast.Co.CC/
*Its Facebook page: Click here!

John Matthews on MET! (Aug.6, 2011):Click!