I felt I was not accepted by either Japanese society or by mainstream American society.


Interviewed & written by Isao Tokuhashi
Mail to: info@myeyestokyo.com


Yuri Kageyama
Tokyo Correspondent for The Associated Press
(Born in Japan and educated in the U.S.)

Yuri Kageyama

Today’s interviewee is very, very experienced journalist. Ms. Yuri Kageyama is a Tokyo correspondent for The Associated Press, or AP, a world-famous news agency. She has grown up in a bicultural environment, Japan and the U.S. She’s been transmitting what’s happening in Japan to rest of the world for a long time.

*Interview in Kichijoji
*Photos by Mari Sakamoto



“You’re not an assistant. You’re a reporter.”

I have been with The AP for about 15 years now. I started out as a local hire in the Tokyo bureau. I sent resumes to several news organizations. Then I took the test. I got interviewed, and I got hired. Before that, I was with the Japan Times, an English newspaper in Japan, for five years. I wanted to get another job. That’s why I applied and I got a job here.

I write only in English because I was educated in the English language. I did apply to the English Asahi, another English newspaper in Japan, and the Washington Post. I got hired by all of them. But I took the AP job because I thought it was a better opportunity.

The Washington Post is a very good newspaper but I would be only an assistant for the correspondent from abroad. I think the Asahi is also a fantastic news organization, but I would be working in the English language portion of the Asahi. So I thought working for AP would be better.

They told me that if I work for AP, you’re a reporter, just like anybody else. You’re not an assistant. You’re not an interpreter. If you get hired at The New York Times or the Washington Post, then you just help the real reporters from the U.S. But here, you do all the reporting, you do all the stories. I think I made the right choice.


Japan has a lot of important news

I want to be a writer. I write in the English language because I was educated in English, in English-speaking schools. So I think I chose The AP because as a wire service, they needed reporters who have the cultural background and language background that I have. That would make me more desirable for that news organization. If I work for a regular newspaper in America, it would be fun, but my Japanese language skills and my knowledge of Japan would not be much use. If I work for a newspaper in Idaho, how many times are you are going to speak Japanese or use your knowledge about Japan?

Whereas if you work for the AP, they have a huge bureau – I mean relatively – more than 10 reporters. They need news about Japan, and it’s a good avenue for me. And I was lucky because when I applied for the job, that was when Japan was important international news. I think China and India will be future focuses for international news. But at that time there was a lot of Japan-bashing and a lot of fear about Japan taking over the world. I mean, I thought from the beginning that Japan would always be an important news place. I think Japan has a lot of important news.


Krispy Kreme

What I try to do is write for international audiences. I think about how I can get their attention and how I can make it a topic that is easy to understand for them.

For example, recently I did a story about how Japanese people are starting to eat fattening food or high-calorie food items. In doing that story, American readers would find it easier if you choose something they understand. So I chose Krispy Kreme, an American doughnuts chain.

It just opened a store, and there were huge lines in front of that store. That’s something that an American reader understands. You put Krispy Kreme at the top. That would illustrate what you want to tell them. And then you can put in comments from people you talked to, food experts, marketing experts and, of course, Krispy Kreme people, too. And you try to explore why this is happening, or why Japanese people are becoming Americanized.


“What is it that I’m trying to tell these people?”

I guess that’s pretty basic for reporting. But I think it’s even more important because you’re trying to tell them about something that they’re not familiar with. So the story has to be accessible to Mr. or Mrs. Jones in Idaho or wherever. And it’s a good challenge because it always makes you face your story and ask yourself, “What is it that I’m trying to tell these people?”

Another problem is this. A lot of scoop that you may have or a lot of really interesting stories that you may have are not going to be understandable to the international audience. So it is a challenge.

If you look at everything hard enough, there’s a way to make it international. I think even a domestic company like Daiso (Japanese one-dollar shop) would probably have some American angle. You look in there and see if there are some American products, or maybe they hired American marketing professionals. There’s a way to do the story in some way. That’s the fun part. Because then your story becomes unique.

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Tokyo Bureau of the Associated Press *Taken by Isao Tokuhashi


“His lack of English skills was the biggest obstacle”

I went to the United States for the first time when I was 6 with my parents. My father was an engineer, and he really liked the U.S. His English wasn’t that good, but he studied. He liked working in the U.S. so every opportunity he got to get out of Japan, he took it. I think it was unusual for his generation. But America offered him more opportunities as an engineer. That’s why he liked it.

He wanted me to have the same opportunities. He wanted me to be an engineer. And he thought that his lack of English skills was the biggest obstacle that he had. He didn’t like that, so he didn’t want me to have those obstacles. So he chose to educate me in the English language. Because he thought if you have a command of English, it’s true you have a lot more freedom to talk with more people because it’s almost like a global language.

So when we were living in the Washington D.C. area, I went to a public elementary school there. And when I came back to Japan, he chose to put me in an international school. And then, when I was in high school, we went to live in Alabama, and I went to a public school there. Then we came back, and he put me in an international school in Tokyo.


Writing poetry in San Francisco

Even though I spent a lot of my years in Tokyo, I went to an international school where I got educated in the English language and so it was a lot easier for me to apply to U.S. universities. So I went to Bryn Mawr College first and I transferred to Cornell University. I majored in an interdisciplinary field of sociology, anthropology and social psychology.  Then I got my master’s at UC Berkley in sociology.

I didn’t stay for my doctorate, and I was writing as a freelance writer. Actually I wanted to be a fiction writer and poet. I have a lot of poetry and short fiction published in literary magazines. I liked to write stories even when I was in elementary school.

I spent 10 years in the San Francisco Bay Area. I wrote poetry and fiction, and I did performances with musicians. So I had a good time, a great time.

I was doing some freelance writing for Japanese-American newspapers and Chinese-American newspapers, too, and some local papers. I was also getting published in literary magazines.


“How do you get income and how do you write?”

But there was really not that much money. So when I wanted to have a family, when I had my child and I got married, I started thinking, “How do you get paid writing?” When you do sociology, a lot of it is like journalism. You have to go out into the field, and you’re observing how people live and write about it. It’s almost journalism. So when I needed an 8-5 job that pays a salary, not just freelancing, I got my job at the Japan Times. That’s when I started. That’s only because I needed money.

If I was able to make money as a poet, I would’ve preferred that because I think you can do a lot more in poetry than you can in a news article. I mean, this is probably something I shouldn’t be saying as a reporter, but I think the things you do in poetry, even though nobody reads it, are at a higher level.

So every time I have an opportunity to be poetic in my news articles, I try to do that. I think that’s more important in terms of what you’re communicating about what’s happening with people. But most of the time, there’s not much space for poetry in a news article.


I wanted to get a job at an English paper in Japan to use my Japanese skills

The good thing about news articles is that so many more people read them than they do poems. So the potential of whom you can reach is just awesome. You could reach so many more people, especially at The AP. Millions of people read AP articles. In the beginning, it was just that I wanted a job. So I worked at the Japan Times and then AP. These days, I am really grateful to The AP because it does reach millions of people. It’s a great opportunity and they give you a byline. It says “By Yuri Kageyama.” It’s cool, I think.

But in the beginning, I just wanted money and I wanted to write. That’s why I went to the Japan Times first because I thought it’d be easier for me to get a job that uses my English skills in Japan than the other way around. How would I get a job at the San Francisco Chronicle by using my Japanese skills? I didn’t even try, but I thought it would be easier for me to get a job the other way around, at an English paper in Japan. So I worked at the Japan Times.


I wasn’t quite whole as a human-being

My experience has been bicultural. The good part is that I have special language skills and a special cultural background. It helps one get jobs.

However, the bad part is that, when I was growing up, I did feel marginal like I was not accepted by either Japanese society or by mainstream American society. There was a long period when I felt inadequate and maybe felt an inferiority complex. I wasn’t quite whole as a Japanese or as an American, or as a human-being.

When I look back, I think it’s a great experience to have diversity in your life. I’m not that worried about it anymore, but it used to be a big issue. Who am I? I wished that my father didn’t send me to an English-speaking school. Then I could have probably gone to a regular Japanese school and never would have known all the other American things.

Now, I think of it as a privilege, and that’s why I would like to give the same experience to my son. When I made that choice, I think I actually came to terms with why my father did what he did.

Also I appreciate why he did what he did. He used to tell me that you don’t do what’s good for just Japan, you do what’s good for the world. What’s good for the world will be good for Japan. So he did have that vision of thinking more than just about Japan.


I’m writing because I want to know more about myself

Even though news is supposed to be objective, which means that it doesn’t matter who writes the news, that’s not really true. Because who the reporter is makes a big difference. How sensitive the reporter is or how well-researched the reporter is, all that makes a difference to the story. We know about Japan. We’re sensitive to things about Japan. So we have something special to offer, whether at Bloomberg, Reuters or The New York Times. I think we should be proud of that and take advantage of that.

News is changing rapidly. We’re adapting to the online age. So in some ways news has to be a lot faster, and news has to be more specialized. So the advice is that it’s not good enough to just be a good reporter and know a few languages. That’s not good enough. You have to have a specialty.

Work on your basic reporting, as many languages as you can and cultural sensitivity but also develop your specialty. Things go, and news goes, online. There’s going to be a lot of opportunities to reach niche readers. So if you can create a way you shape your news, there’s a lot more potential. The hurdle is getting lower. It feels like the hurdle is getting higher, but in fact, the hurdle is getting lower. If you like manga, that’s an answer. That could be your specialty. Or pop culture, or fashion, sports, technology, whatever.

I’m writing because I want to know more about myself and the world around me and do the right thing. That’s one of the good things about being a journalist. You are not really hurting that many people, and your stories can give information that may help people make the right decisions.



What is Tokyo is to you and what is America to you?

Both Japanese and American culture is something that I feel is my own. Tokyo is me and America is me. A part of me, myself.


Yuri’s Links

Associated Press: ap.org/
Her personal site: yurikageyama.com


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