Reporter, editor, publisher: Japan's 89-year-old newshound
Publish Date: Jun 03, 2014
Reporter, editor, publisher: Japan's 89-year-old newshound
Toshio Hiratsuka (R), the reporter, editor and publisher of the newspaper Oshika Shimbun working at his office in Ishinomaki, Miyagi prefecture, northern Japan. AFP
  • mail
  • img

ISHINOMAKI - Toshio Hiratsuka is the backbone of his local newspaper; the star reporter whose trusty notebook and pen have borne witness to nearly every significant event in his corner of Japan for 65 years.

Hiratsuka is the man without whom the paper would never be produced. In fact he is the only reporter at the Oshika Shimbun. And at the age of 89, he is also editor and publisher of the paper that has well over 1,000 subscribers.

All week he toils, cycling everywhere to find out what local folks are talking about on his quest to unearth all the news that's fit to print.

He reports on fish hauls at the port and on award-winning residents; he covers accidents and incidents -- including the two foxes that appeared in a deserted park recently.

Hiratsuka, 89 . PHOT BY AFP

He pays regular visits to the local police box, noting down the details of the occasional crime -- one of the worst of which in recent times involved a hit and run on a telephone pole.

He follows the goings on at the town office and reports on the activities of local politicians.

"From Monday to Thursday I'm tied up with the paper," Hiratsuka told AFP.

"I'm really happy on Thursday nights... It's like that relief you felt in your school days once an exam was over," he says.

- Miss Watanoha -

Journalism began for Hiratsuka after World War II, when he returned to the town of Watanoha to take up an unpaid apprenticeship at a local newspaper.

In 1949, he and another man started the "Shukan Watanoha" (Weekly Watanoha), which told readers in its first edition that rikshaws and bicycles plying the dirt roads must be registered.

A year later the paper was transformed into the weekly Oshika Shimbun (Oshika Newspaper) when his business partner left.

"I was young and worked feverishly, the days flew by," he said.

Then-mayor of Watanoha, Keisuke Baba lauded the 1949 publication -- which cost 30 yen (around eight US cents at the time) a month -- writing that it had "an important role as our hometown paper."

"I hope it will not imitate major papers (in Tokyo) unnecessarily but will fully develop its character and become a newspaper loved by local people."

And indeed it has -- over the intervening 65 years, the Oshika Shimbun has written the history of Watanoha.

It reported the selection of the first Miss Watanoha on the stage of the town's only movie theatre in 1950, as a still war-shattered Japan began to show signs of life.

The 89-year-old Hiratsuka is the backbone of his local newspaper, the star reporter whose trusty notebook and pen have borne witness to nearly every significant event in his corner of Japan for 65 years. PHOTO BY AFP

It told, in 1959, how the settlement of Watanoha on the Oshika peninsula ceased to be a town in its own right and became a district of Ishinomaki city.

It recounted the tsunami that raced across the vast breadth of the Pacific Ocean in 1960 after a huge earthquake in Chile, slamming into the town.

Over coming decades it told of daily life in a small part of a Japan that was getting richer by the week, as the post-war economic miracle was wrought.

In fact, the only big event the Oshika Shimbun did not cover as it happened was the 2011 quake and resulting tsunami that washed away Hiratsuka's home, his printworks and 547 of the town's 17,000 people, including the reporter's sister.

For six months, as a nuclear crisis raged further south at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, Hiratsuka did not produce his paper. The disaster, which killed 18,500 people nationwide, had knocked the stuffing out of the town and its chronicler.

"But so many people asked me when I'd resume producing the paper. I eventually started to think 'I've got to do it'," Hiratsuka said. Six months after he downed his pen, the paper was back.

"Newspapers have their value in being continued. I'm a man of yore, I can't just stop."

- Family affair -

Given its editor's age, the paper has become something of a family affair -- Hiratsuka writes his articles by hand for his daughter-in-law to type up.

His 74 year-old wife and the couple's grandson take some of the strain in hand-delivering the paper to local subscribers. Others who have moved away receive theirs by mail.

Newspapers remain an important part of the media landscape in Japan, a country that boasts several of the world's biggest-selling papers, including the Yomiuri Shimbun which shifts 13 million copies a day.

But their readerships are declining, as in other developed countries, as readers migrate to the Internet, taking advertisers with them.

The key, say some industry observers, is to localise. And while Hiratsuka's one-man-band approach may be extreme, his hyper-locality might be the key.

The irony for Hiratsuka, is that far from being a new thing, his cutting edge strategy is decades old.

"I've been doing the same thing all the time -- working to issue a newspaper which can be appreciated by people," he says.

Koji Takahashi, an 84-year-old former town official and a long-time reader, agrees the paper has earned a special place in residents' hearts.

"It carries small stories, it's all about us," he says. "We say 'if you want to know about Watanoha, look in the Oshika Shimbun'."


The statements, comments, or opinions expressed through the use of New Vision Online are those of their respective authors, who are solely responsible for them, and do not necessarily represent the views held by the staff and management of New Vision Online.

New Vision Online reserves the right to moderate, publish or delete a post without warning or consultation with the author.Find out why we moderate comments. For any questions please contact

  • mail
  • img
blog comments powered by Disqus
Also In This Section
ICC insists Kenyatta attend
THE International Criminal Court has rejected a request by Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta's lawyers to have him excused from a hearing next week...
Muslim pilgrims denounce IS but doubt US-led war
As they gather in Saudi Arabia's holy city of Mecca for the annual hajj, some pilgrims have denounced atrocities by Islamic State group jihadists as "a virus" threatening the world....
Fears over fresh eruption halt Japan volcano search
Volcanic tremors and fears over a fresh eruption forced rescuers with gas masks to halt operations to recover bodies from a Japanese mountain on Tuesday, 72 hours after its eruption....
Kutesa rallies Christians to act on global crises
The president of the UN General Assembly, Sam Kutesa has rallied Christians across the globe to act decisively to address global crises....
More than 30 feared dead on Japan volcano
The first deaths were confirmed Sunday among more than 30 hikers feared killed near the peak of a Japanese volcano that erupted without warning, spewing ash, rocks and steam....
Zambia denies rumours of president
Zambia on Friday denied rumours that President Michael Sata had died during a visit to New York after he failed to make a scheduled speech to the UN general assembly....
Will police's move to increase the number of investigators help deal with fraud?
Can't Say
follow us
subscribe to our news letter