Umemoto Seiichi, Chihōshi ha chiiki wo tsukuru: Jūmin no tameno jyanarizumu

Anthony S. Rausch, Hirosaki University [About | Email]

Volume 16, Issue 2 (Book review 2 in 2016). First published in ejcjs on 28 August 2016.

Umemoto Seiichi, Chihōshi ha chiiki wo tsukuru: Jūmin no tameno jyanarizumu
(Local Newspapers and Region-making: Journalism for Residents)
Tokyo: Nanatsumori Shokan, 2015. 261 pp.

It is always satisfying, if not reassuring, when research one has undertaken and conclusions one has offered are validated by others; such is the case for me personally with Chihōshi ha chiiki wo tsukuru: Jūmin no tameno jyanarizumu (Local Newspapers and Region-making: Journalism for Residents) by Umemoto Seiichi. The book parallels the central theme I expressed in Japan’s Local Newspapers: Chihōshi and Revitalisation Journalism (Routledge, 2012; reviewed in the electronic journal of contemporary japanese studies, Vol. 14, Issue 3), specifically that local newspapers are a key to local revitalisation—economic, social/cultural and political—in contemporary rural Japan.

Umemoto, a native of rural Toyama prefecture, has ample journalism and newspaper business experience to draw on, having spent a forty-year career in various positions within the industry, mostly associated with the Kita-Nihon Shimbun. In the book, he presents his work as a case study, primarily based on examination of the newspaper of Toyama (the Kita-Nihon Shimbun) and a view of national newspapers from Toyama, taking up a variety of viewpoints for assessment. The book opens in the first chapter by noting that the “message power” of the newspaper exists well beyond the practice of the “kisha club” press conference reporting that has come to characterise Japanese newspaper reporting. In this, Umemoto presents the local newspaper as being based on and oriented around regional culture as a window onto regional topics, issues, and priorities, functioning to discover and disseminate the view of local residents, as well as contributing to and providing for local revitalisation. In the second chapter, Umemoto offers that local newspapers create a sense of ‘localism,’ outlining how local reporting on local issues—issues originating within a particular place—combine with issue reporting from other regions carried as content in local newspapers throughout Japan, thereby connecting geographically separate and diverse regions and contributing to a broad view on multiple local realities. As one example, Umemoto offers the increasing frequency of incidences of bear disturbances that take place in Toyama as being similar to different wildlife disturbances in other locales. Viewed in terms of issue recognition, this linking of “local cases and local responses” across regions is both highly symbolic as well as a powerful mechanism for national confirmation of widespread social phenomena; other examples include rural population decline and its effect on local communities and disaster preparedness.

Turning to the political in Chapter Three, Umemoto holds local newspapers as the “fortification” for democracy. He accepts that local politics and governance are held accountable at the level of local media on the one hand, but also asserts that with local reporting of local responses to national policy—the Heisei Mergers is the example provided—local newspapers constitute an important and justifiably necessary local influence on national governance on the other. Adopting the notion that history is a process, Umemoto offers the local newspaper as the means of keeping regions alive, by ensuring a base in local culture, a connection across generations, and a frontier view on a continually evolving society. In Chapter Four, Umemoto takes up local newspapers with an eye toward the inherent tension between journalism and management, arguing that “journalism as the management priority” is rewarded at the level of the local paper. For the local newspaper, a “deep listening” combined with recognition of “readers’ everyday life” is paramount for the relevance that ensures subscriptions. This leads into the fifth and final chapter, which argues that in the highly competitive media environment of today, the connection of journalism with place, in the form of the local newspaper, is the means of ensuring the survival of the press in its battle against the Internet.

The over-riding conclusion of the book is that the local newspaper provides for a great many of the vital ‘social’ elements that are increasingly missing from our contemporary information-rich media environment. The local newspaper provides for local news about local issues, contextualised by local cultural and social reality and local circumstance, to be circulated within a locale. However, the local newspaper also provides a means for local issues to rise, en masse, to a level where they are both validated and recognised at a national level. In this sense, the local newspaper provides for an issues-based democracy, both at the local level of politics and governance, but also, and perhaps more importantly, through the aggregate power of local newspapers from across the country, thereby giving voice to local reaction to central policy with the power to ultimately influence governance at the national level. Finally, the local newspaper offers pushback against the growing (and disconnected, if not disheartening) influence of global media, both print and electronic, proving that, at the local level, “good journalism” equals “good management.”

As stated in the opening of this review, I was reassured by Chihōshi ha chiiki wo tsukuru, in that it makes several of the same arguments I have made, albeit in Japanese. While my work was based on combination of broader sampling (15 local newspapers from throughout Japan) together with a similarly in-depth analysis of a local newspaper (the Tōōnippō of Aomori prefecture), and is published in English, the argument is the same. Local newspapers are vital to modern society, whether for the functioning of local communities, the revitalisation of regional economies, the sustenance of the national democracy, with the addition that, as I included in my conclusion, the local newspaper provides one of the best ways to ‘see’ Japan, whether simply out of curiosity or in the undertaking of social sciences academic research on a vast range of social themes in contemporary Japanese studies.1 One hopes that this message will be increasingly recognised everywhere, thereby sustaining vibrant local journalism cultures wherever they are found.


[1] See: Japanese Journalism and the Japanese Newspaper: A Supplemental Reader, ed. Anthony Rausch, Teneo Press, 2014.

About the Author

Anthony S. Rausch has a PhD from Monash University. His research interests are rural Japanese society. He is editor of Japanese Journalism and the Japanese Newspaper: A Supplemental Reader (Teneo Press, 2014), and has published A Year with the Local Newspaper: Understanding the Times in Aomori, Japan; Japan’s Local Newspapers: Chihoshi and Revitalisation Journalism (Routledge Contemporary Japan Series, 2012); and more recently, Cultural Commodities in Japanese Rural Revitalisation: Tsugaru Nuri Lacquerware and Tsugaru Shamisen (Brill).

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