Japanese community papers in fierce battle in U.S.

NIKKEI MEDIA — Shintaro Tanaka editor of Weekly NY Japion, a New York-based Japanese community paper, and was the former editor of San Francisco’s Hokubei Mainichi, which closed in 2009. Kyodo News photo

NIKKEI MEDIA — Shintaro Tanaka editor of Weekly NY Japion, a New York-based Japanese community paper, and was the former editor of San Francisco’s Hokubei Mainichi, which closed in 2009. Kyodo News photo

NEW YORK —  Often available for free at Japanese supermarkets and restaurants in major U.S. cities, Japanese community papers are competing hard with Internet media including bloggers for readers and struggling with generating ad revenues.

The rise of community papers, meanwhile, has been partly responsible for at least two conventional paid newspapers serving the Japanese community being forced out of the market.

The United States has two of the three largest communities of long-term Japanese residents outside Japan. According to October 2012 data from the Japanese Foreign Ministry, the largest was Los Angeles with 71,435 residents, while New York was third with 53,365, after Shanghai’s 57,458.

New York offers a dozen Japanese weeklies and monthlies competing for advertising revenues, with each seeking a way to reach out to readers.

Weekly NY Japion circulates around 24,000 copies in New York and some other areas of the East Coast. The paper, which typically carries 48 pages, underwent a redesign in October that included the launch of a section focusing on the history and culture of prominent New York spots on a monthly basis.

Editor in chief Shintaro Tanaka, 42, says the changes were made “to respond to a younger generation of readers who say they want to know more about the city.” He noted that the paper’s readership includes many who are new to New York.

Shukan New York Seikatsu handles a variety of information from school admissions for students returning to Japan, aimed at Japanese expatriate families, to events at Japanese schools in New York suburbs and the “green card” lottery that awards permanent U.S. visas for foreign nationals.

“We try to pick up daily life information from the perspective of Japanese based in local communities,” said Ryoichi Miura, the 58-year-old publisher of the tabloid, which issues around 20,000 copies each week.

Neighborhoods around Los Angeles are also a major battleground for Japanese community papers, given the large number of Japanese-American residents living in the region.

Inaugurated in 1984 and published five days a week, Nikkan San started last year a monthly column of interviews with Japanese or people of Japanese descent who are in leadership positions including managers of local businesses such as restaurants.

In addition to articles fed by news providers from Japan such as Kyodo News and Sankei Sports, “We are also keen on carrying local reports from our own news-gathering activities,” said Toshimasa Tomiyama, the 51-year-old publisher. Tomiyama says its daily circulation runs at around 20,000 copies from Tuesday to Friday and 30,000 on Saturday.

Weekly LALALA, which typically runs 56 pages, provides a broad range of information on restaurants. It expanded its revenue source by sponsoring fairs for ramen noodle shops including a number of celebrated restaurants in Japan.

They were held in the two California cities of San Jose and Pomona for a total of eight days in October, drawing a sizable crowd thanks to the paper’s circulation of around 60,000.

Tatsuo Mori, the 43-year-old president of Weekly LALALA, said he is considering staging similar events in Seattle, Washington, and Dallas, Texas. He added the weekly started delivery in Texas in January.

The rise of community papers has impacted regular papers catering to Japanese speakers in San Francisco. Two major Japanese paid papers were forced out of the California market in 2009, attributable to the growth of community papers and a growing number of Japanese Americans who use the language less in their daily life than their parents did.

Despite the adverse climate, Rafu Shimpo has managed to stay in business, celebrating its 111th anniversary this year, making it one of the oldest Japanese papers in North America.

Rafu is an old-fashioned kanji designation for “Los Angeles.”

The paper delivers information both in Japanese and English.

“We are losing money but so long as there are readers out there who want to know more about Japanese culture, we have a mission to move on,” said Takashi Ishihara, the editor in chief of the Japanese section. “Local papers such as The Los Angeles Times don’t report so much about Japanese culture or the Japanese community, and when they do, they sometimes carry misinformation.”

Free community papers draw much of their revenue from corporate advertisements. NY Japion President Hitoshi Onishi, 41, said, “We used to have ads from around 200 companies for each issue but that has dropped to some 180 on average in recent issues.”

He said in 2011 and 2013, ad revenues returned to 2008 levels before the financial crisis. Since 2013, competition has been heating up with Internet services, he said, because many sponsors are shifting budgets from free papers to Net advertisements, where it is easier to quantify impact.

NY Japion started publishing in Boston in 2012 and revamped its Website in October to make it easier to read on smartphones. This and other papers are also drawing readers to ads by attaching coupons.

Weekly LALALA’s Mori said the financial crisis didn’t have a major impact in Los Angeles and its surrounding area but that business hasn’t been picking up substantially since then.

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