Celebrating J-STORIES’ one-year anniversary, we have asked members of our editorial team, Katsuro Kitamatsu, Sayuri Daimon and Toshi Maeda, to reflect on the activities of this global news source to date, and to give their views on J-STORIES’ future direction. (Interviewer: J-STORIES Deputy Executive Editor Takanori Isshiki)
J-STORIES: seeing Japan’s innovations and global contributions at a glance
J-STORIES: It’s already been a year since J-STORIES was created. What are your thoughts in retrospect?
Katsuro Kitamatsu (J-STORIES Chief Editorial Advisor, referred to as Kitamatsu below): I often hear negative comments about how, compared to other countries, Japan doesn’t have many startups, or that they aren’t that successful, and if things are okay as they are. However, since being involved in J-STORIES, I have been surprised by all the incredible startups in Japan. It gives me hope that they will keep growing, and I can’t help wanting to support them. Those kinds of startups don’t spend the kind of money on advertising that large companies do, so you might not notice them if you only look at major media sources. The good thing about J-STORIES is that we can discover these kinds of startups, so my reflection after one year is that from now on we need to continue finding these kinds of companies.
I’m sure that there are all kinds of movements aiming to tell the world about Japan, but there aren’t many where you can see them all in one place. Topics about things new to the world, or originating from overseas are frequently broadcasted from other media sources. However, with J-STORIES, you can see all those movements in one place, and because they’re organized by topic, it’s easy to understand. I believe that there’s intrinsic value in this kind of media. That’s the situation for now, so I think that we should keep strengthening these two points.
Sayuri Daimon: When you listen to others’ reactions, there are a lot of people who say that they value being able to read an article in both English and Japanese. At first they are surprised by that fact, and as they start reading our articles, they are even more surprised that they didn’t know about all these businesses in Japan. In that sense, I think that J-STORIES is a media source that holds a lot of surprises for both Japanese and people overseas. It’s a valuable media source that digs up things more complicated than just things that Japanese people know but foreigners don’t, so I think it’s very important to consider how to continue growing J-STORIES and letting more people know about it.
Through J-STORIES, I want more people to understand that media is important, and that it’s something that transmits globally valuable information. I think that this is very important for the future of all media. With that in mind, we want to keep working hard in the future, and since the people we meet do all kinds of interesting things, I hope we can introduce more of those people as well.
Toshi Maeda: When you go overseas you can still strongly feel an interest toward Japan, both as a country and toward its technology and startups. But from an overseas perspective, it seems that Japan is still viewed as a far-away place, so there are a lot of foreigners who are very interested but don’t know how to do research into it. So I hope that J-STORIES can become a doorway for those kinds of people. Something that hasn’t changed since the founding of J-STORIES last year is how we communicate information about Japanese companies’ efforts in English to countries abroad. The current situation of large Japanese media sources is that they only publish articles about especially significant results from large listed companies, and there aren’t many articles about early-stage startups. Even one year after our initial launch, there probably aren’t any other media sources besides us that have professional writers producing articles in both Japanese and English without relying on auto-translate. I believe, again, that this is our value, and why we exist.
I’m happy to see that after a bit over a year, we’re finally gradually gaining renown within Japan, and have started receiving some attention from other media sources as well. From now on, I want to continue what we’re doing with an even stronger sense of purpose and mission.
Questioning the state of the media. How is it different from press releases?
J-STORIES: Given that J-STORIES is formatted to introduce activities by companies and startups in a positive light, I’m sure that some readers wonder if it’s essentially a press release, where articles just parrot what companies say. In reality, there are many news sites around the world that just repost press releases. With that in consideration, please explain how you ensure credibility as a media source.
Kitamatsu: If I’m to explain how I personally conceptualize things, it’s that J-STORIES isn’t the only media source in the world—it constitutes one of many. In reality, media broadcasting has a great tendency to portray events in a negative or critical light, and whenever a new piece of news is published, there are many reports along the lines of “this is difficult,” “this is bad,“ or "this will fail,” and so on. It’s important to inform the general public about risks, but when it comes to startups, even if they have great ideas and future visions, they commonly also have all kinds of issues, so it’s easy for them to be depicted negatively. It might be a good idea, but it’s not sustainable budget-wise, for example. However, it’s not always the case that the media properly conveys the goals and ideas of the company. My belief is that J-STORIES’ unique role is to properly explain these ideas that are globally applicable.
Maeda: It’s been two years since we’ve taken up the position of being the first Japanese solutions-journalism specializing media source, and I want to continue establishing the concept of solutions-based journalism in Japan. We place a lot of importance in the journalism part, and want to continue respecting the value of conveying the truth to readers in an accessible way. Our belief is that there is as much light in the world as there is dark, and so as journalists, our intention is to focus not only on problems and the dark, but the light, or solutions. Not just problems, but the response to them. To observe who is responding to what problems, and how. However, since we are journalists, we’re not going to just let loose and write puff pieces. We gather evidence and interview subjects in order to discern the truth, and figure out the limits of these solutions and what kinds of issues there are that need to be solved in the future, and then broadcast this information wholistically and clearly to readers. And finally, as a feature particular to J-STORIES, as we publish our articles, we always pay attention to what kind of role these solutions originating from Japan could take from a global perspective and whether they have the potential to lead to more large-scale solutions.
Fields where Japan’s solutions fall behind the rest of the world
J-STORIES: Concerning the article categories, when it comes to fields such as technology and solutions to aging populations where Japan is especially advanced globally, it seems that there are a lot of Japanese solutions that can be introduced. But when it comes to issues such as diversity, wellbeing and gender equality, it seems that there aren’t many ideas originating from Japan that can be broadcast overseas. And if we're being honest, we don’t have many articles on those issues. What are your thoughts on this?
Daimon: Of course there is the feeling that we’re behind in terms of gender and diversity. On the other hand, especially given that we’re behind, there are actually movements to change that situation. So I think an important responsibility of ours is to pick up on these movements and write about them. So we journalists must use our own eyes to dig them up, and even if they are only seedlings of a solution, it’s important to have articles that support their growth. There are a lot of people I know personally that feel a sense of responsibility and are working to help. There are many not only companies or businesses, but also NPOs and individuals like social entrepreneurs, so by giving those people more exposure, I hope that there will be more light shed on those kinds of social issues, and that it will lead to problem solving.
How do we advertise the efforts of Japanese companies overseas?
J-STORIES: Something that people often say is that Japan is quick at discovering new technology and innovations, but is overtaken by countries overseas before it manages to proliferate them. This could be interpreted as Japanese companies having difficulty sharing their innovations internationally. So there seems to be a problem that there isn’t enough communication with foreign investors and buyers, or that Japanese companies produce innovations that are needed overseas, but the message doesn’t get across. Is this just a language problem? What can be done? How do you think J-STORIES can provide support?
Maeda: In order to get to the point where people understand the need for Japanese innovations, the world needs to know that they exist. Firstly, while they may be known in Japan, especially with regards to the projects by recent startups, there are many that aren’t properly translated into English, so there’s still a lot of innovations that people overseas don’t know about. So first the products and innovations by companies need to be communicated, and then they can judge whether or not it’s useful. That’s how they will finally be able to bring others from around the globe to the table.
Daimon: I believe that there is a language barrier. People hesitate when it comes to English. It would be great if people could speak confidently about their innovations and such. I don’t think it has to be perfect English, either. Of course there’s the articles we write, but it would be good if they could talk about them to people in overseas companies in conversation.
Maeda: When I talk to Japanese companies, especially smaller-scale ones, I often hear them talk about how they have difficulty responding to inquiries from overseas, and that they don’t have the confidence to consistently make themselves known globally. I think that it’s a big shame.
Kitamatsu: I think it’s important to assist where we can. What’s important when communicating information overseas is to clearly explain what’s unique about what is being offered. Japanese companies do advertise what their products can do or what’s great about them, but often they leave it unclear how they are better than related existing products overseas. If they don’t clarify that, however amazing (the product) might be, that value won’t be understood.
Not just broadcasting information, but delivering it to people in need
J-STORIES: Finally, what's the outlook for J-STORIES as it enters its second year, and do you have a message for Japanese startups seeking to expand globally?
Daimon: These are chaotic times. On the one hand Japan is frequently criticized for naval-gazing, and rightly so in some ways, so on the other hand I really hope that Japan can be more active globally. Instead of thinking that Japan is too small to be active, if Japanese companies have the technology, innovations and energy to solve problems, and sell that to the world, I hope that they keep growing.
Kitamatsu: There’s a cynical view of existing media that it’s all content that's past its sell-by date, but that’s concerning old forms of media, and it’s not as if the need for the media itself has disappeared. And currently, instead of some careless editorial philosophy that says that anything that could be considered news should be broadcasted, I believe that readers would rather follow a media source with a clear intention behind what it wants people to understand. J-STORIES publishes optimistic and positive news, and tries to hype it up, but that doesn’t mean that we intend to cover up the bad things, far from it. Instead, in order to solve problems, you need a public opinion and intentions that says we need to solve things, or else the movements to problem-solve won’t grow. After hearing that there are many people and organizations working hard toward solutions, I’m sure many readers will feel that they should do something too. If we can encourage that kind of thing, perhaps disparate movements can come together to create a new, larger current of change. That is what I’m anticipating.
Maeda: J-STORIES is an extraordinarily revolutionary media source. We don’t stop at just conveying, like the traditional form of media. Rather, we want to properly deliver the content to the people who need it. This is our mid- to long-term goal, as well as our vision. If you ask whether we’ve met that goal, there’s a lot that we still haven’t achieved, but in order to properly realize necessary solutions, we hope to create a platform that can help connect people who are in need of these solutions. Please continue supporting J-STORIES into the future.