By RYOKO OHNISHI
RAFU STAFF WRITER
TV Fan, the monthly Japanese literature magazine, will celebrate its 35th anniversary this month. However, publisher Koichi Takeuchi, 64, of Los Angeles, is in a despondent mood. “Due to the recent economic meltdown, our long-time corporate sponsors who used to place display advertisements have withdrawn from us this year.
We are constantly $3,000 short every month. If the situation does not improve, I may have to make a decision in the future.” Takeuchi continued, “Right now, luckily, we have the Census Bureau advertisement for three months, so this was a lifesaver. However, I do not know after that. The online environment does not match with our readership, so I am not interested in transforming in that direction.”
As a matter of fact, Takeuchi is currently looking for someone to take over his publishing business. “Last fall, when I heard the news that two newspapers (Nichi Bei Times and Hokubei Mainichi) had stopped printing, I was shocked and discouraged.”
Takeuchi was born in Manchuria in 1946 and raised in Chigasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture.
He became the third owner of the company in 1998, pursuing his longtime dream to be a publisher. The readership has grown to 12,000, including 2,000 paid subscribers from all over the nation. According to Takeuchi, the founder of the magazine was Kokichi Tsukahara, a former cameraman for the Japanese TV station, Asahi Homecast. The magazine was initially established by Tsukahara to print more details about TV programs with additional “fun to read” materials.
In 1975, under the leadership of Tsukahara, TV Fan began as a writers’ forum for the Asahi Homecast staff and related people such as Masakiyo Watanabe, Kempo Hirabayashi and Kazuko Yuki. People who wished to write for the magazine contributed. Today, the title TV Fan still remains even though the number of Japanese TV programs has diminished dramatically compared to the ’70s. After its establishment, TV Fan was run by Tsukahara for 21 years; his intention was to position the magazine as a Bungei Shunju for Los Angeles. Bungei Shunju is an authoritative Japanese literary magazine published monthly in Tokyo, akin to Harper’s Magazine.
The seven-by-eight inch, 78-page publication includes 10 pages in English and 68 pages in Japanese. The current issue of TV Fan includes English-Japanese bilingual articles such as a Japanese TV guide, a biography of Japanese Americans called “History Speaks Up,” and an interview with a Sansei or Yonsei, called “Gambaru Next Generation.”
The rest of the articles are in Japanese, including interviews of interest, cooking recipes, travel guides, senryu and tanka poems and so forth. One of the novels written by a Little Tokyo physician, Kenji Irie, “A Journey of Mariko” has been serialized for the past few years with loyal fans.
The magazine has had three guiding characteristics since its establishment. One is that it functions as a literature forum for local authors to publicize their work including, essays, novels and poems. The second characteristic is to document Japanese American history, and third, Takeuchi stated, was to not yield to the “obvious” commercialism and be loyal to subscribers.
For example, one of the longest contributors in this field since the first issue has been Masakiyo Watanabe, the award-winning author who used to be an anchorman for Asahi Homecast. “I believe that Watanabe had no professional writing experience before he started writing for the magazine in 1975.” Takeuchi said that writing for magazines will motivate writers and enhance their writing skills as time goes by. By seeing their work published, their skills will be honed, polished and sophisticated. “The magazine functions as a forum for people who love writing and reading and helps to cultivate writers.”
“Many people have contacted me in the past that they wanted to write something. I usually advise them, ‘Why don’t you write six episodes on the same topic?’ Some can write, some cannot. That is the start line for becoming a writer with a focus.”
Takeuchi also puts his efforts forth in finding local writers and nurturing them from amateur to professional level. For the first step, Takeuchi provides correspondence writing classes by mail or fax. One can submit writings up to 1,200 words in Japanese (which fills up one page) and receive critiques from professionals in Japan.
The third characteristic is that in spite of this economic hardship, Takeuchi does not compromise to “obvious” commercialism. For example, he intentionally avoids publishing editorial articles in a style called the “tie-up” which highlights only positive statements about the paid sponsors. “When we write a restaurant review and a reader sees an advertisement for the restaurant on the same page, he or she will start doubting the quality of our information. My policy is to publish articles which people can trust and are worth reading.”
In regards to the daily work, Takeuchi does everything by himself — sales, marketing and editing. The monthly sales have been generating over $10,000. In addition, he publishes various books such as “Shiminken no Tebiki (Citizenship A to Z, by Yoshiko Yamaguchi)” which has sold over 20,000 copies in the past ten years and also “Japanese Names for Babies (by Aiko Uwate)” has sold 10,000 copies over the same period of time.
Takeuchi sells various books published by local authors, such as Nobuko Iijima, Sunny Seki, Masakiyo Watanabe, actress Eriko Tamura and Rei Hisako. The number of titles represented is nearly 100 books including English-Japanese bilingual children’s books and folktales such as “The Tale of the Lucky Cat,” “The Inch-High Samurai,” “Kintaro, The Nature Boy.” These books published by local authors from publishers in Japan, may not be accessible here because the market is not big from the perspective of chain bookstores in Japan. “So I purchase the books from the publisher directly and distribute them by mail. It is not a big market but I believe this promotes local authorship and motivates creative writing activities.”
Takeuchi added an English section with the intention of targeting the younger generation. “When I spoke to a Sansei gentleman, he said that he wanted to know more about the internment camp experience written in Japanese since his grandparents do not talk much about it. In addition, I realized that the people who we had interviewed in Japanese, ultimately, translated the article into English and distributed it to their children and grandchildren. Adding the English pages helps the younger generation know more about the older generation or even from someone else’s experience.”
Despite the vital role this magazine plays in the community, financial constraints cloud the future of the magazine. Takeuchi started looking for someone to takeover the business since this year. Although there are people who wish to takeover the business for free, so far, nobody wishes to pay $20,000 to $30,000 for a magazine that needs to generate $15,000 to $16,000 of sales per month. When they hear the number, they retract. In addition, the magazine has about 10 regular contributors who write in Japanese, so one has to be able to edit and write in Japanese.
Takeuchi, a father of three children and a grandfather, said he is ready to retire if nobody takes over his business. All of his children have their own professions and have no interest in taking over his business.
“If anybody wishes to take over the business, I am happy to hand it over.”