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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Whither Tokyo Journal?

Back in the Nineties when I was living in Tōkyō 東京 (good god, what is it really that long ago?), one of my primary sources for information was the magazine Tokyo Journal ( Published every month, it combined entertainment listings with interesting articles on Tōkyō in specific, and Japan in general. Unlike Compass Magazine (, the rag that “serves” the foreign community here in T'aichung (Táizhōng) 台中, the writers weren’t afraid to tackle controversial topics, or make critical comments on the state of current affairs in Japan. This was in stark contrast to Compass, where seldom is heard a discouraging word about Taiwan’s third-largest city. Tokyo Journal would feature well-written articles by the likes of the late, great Alan Booth (The Roads to Sata, Looking for the Lost;, and the restaurant reviews by Rick Kennedy were well-worth checking out when deciding on where to go to eat. In Compass, on the other hand, dining establishments seemingly are allowed to submit their own (naturally) glowing reviews, which are then printed verbatim, meaning you’ll have to look elsewhere for an unbiased overview of the city’s dining scene (and good luck with that!).

In all fairness, Compass is a free publication, and relies on its advertisers to stay that way, so it can’t afford to bite the proverbial hands that feed it. With Tokyo Journal, on the other hand, one paid for all that evenhandedness. Still, it does get a little nauseating to read the level of pandering the editors of Compass (Douglas Habecker and Courtney Donovan Smith) stoop to each month when it comes to their reporting on the administration of current T'aichung mayor Jason Hu 胡志強. There must be some extremely brown noses on the staff of Compass by now. But I digress.

In addition of interesting articles, TJ had an extensive listing of monthly events going on in the greater Tōkyō area. There were movie reviews, as well as listings for upcoming concerts, exhibitions, festivals and so on. Along with the usual announcements for rock concerts and kabuki 歌舞伎 performances, Tokyo Journal would also inform its readers of more avant-garde goings on like underground theater and butoh 舞踏 dance, to give just a couple of examples. Although the magazine could easily be found in all the major bookstores that stocked English-language titles, I preferred to subscribed to TJ so that I would have all that information at my fingertips at the beginning of each month. There were no other publications at that time (other than Pia,, which required Japanese-reading skills) which so thoroughly covered the numerous things to see and do in Tōkyō (Metropolis was called Tokyo Classified back then, and Tokyo Weekender was mainly aimed at the ex-pat corporate crowd – of interest only if you wanted to know which embassy parties Bill Hersey had recently attended).

So what’s brought on all this nostalgia? Recently, someone posted a question on Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree Forum asking about theater performances in Tōkyō. My first response was to reply and suggest checking out Tokyo Journal. So you can imagine my surprise when, before doing so, I went to TJ’s homepage and learned that it was now a quarterly publication. Even worse, it appears that its most recent edition was put out last December. Clearly, something has gone wrong in the years since I moved away. Empires rise and fall, and so do publications, it seems. I wish I could at least read some of the classic articles from past editions, but even that doesn’t seem possible on the web site. It’s sad to see old favorites fading away like old soldiers.

And to think I’m stuck with Compass. Good thing I have a lot of salt on hand – I need it when reading all of its “articles” or “reviews” each month!

Taken in my neighborhood, this pictures shows banners that advertise some kind of medical treatment using electric therapy. My wife thinks this is just a 21st-century version of snake oil, which might explain the Japanese name Morita モリタ, thus making it appear to be from Japan, and therefore more believable.


  1. Tokyo Journal's website is It's no longer a city magazine aimed at foreigners looking to get around town. People use the Internet for that nowadays. It's become a quarterly magazine with in-depth articles and pretty amazing photos and it's now aimed at people like us who used to live in Japan and those interested in Japan. You can still find Tokyo Journal in all the bookstores and hotels, and on several airlines flying into Japan's international airports. It seems to me it is more popular internationally today than it was back in the early 80s and 90s.

    1. Thanks. I'm glad to see TJ back in business. When I posted this more than two years ago, the website was in the pitiful state as I described it above.

      Compass, on the other hand, hasn't changed at all.